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Gulf Coast Cuisine – A Seafood Lover’s Dream


Blackened Redfish, Crawfish Etoufee, Andouille Sausage Hash Jambalaya, gumbo, étoufée, boudin, andouille sausage, po’boys, all are words that immediately trigger a mouthwatering Pavlovian response as visions of redolent, spicy Cajun and Creole dishes brimming with seafood dance in my head.

On a recent culinary tour of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, we were reacquainted with the deep history of their Creole culinary heritage which follows the same historical path as Louisiana. The culinary influence of the early French settlers was most prevalent along the Gulf Coast where the fish and seafood dishes continue to have a strong French influence. Many traditional Mississippi recipes are impossible to distinguish from those made famous by their more well-known Louisiana/New Orleans counterparts an hour and a half southwest of Biloxi where our tasting adventure began.

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90% of the buildings along the coast in Biloxi and neighboring Gulfport were destroyed by hurricane Katrina on August, 29, 2005. Several of the “floating” casinos were torn off their supports and thrown inland, contributing to the damage. Of the casinos that were located in Biloxi, eight have reopened since Katrina: the Grand Biloxi Casino Hotel Spa (formerly known as Grand Casino Biloxi), the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the Isle of Capri Casino and Resort, the Palace Casino Resort, the IP Casino Resort Spa (formerly known as Imperial Palace), Treasure Bay Casino, Boomtown Casino, and the Beau Rivage, which reopened on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Biloxi/Gulfport area has proudly risen from the devastation with firm intention to rebuild a more ideal vision of their former economy which rests on the three pillars of seafood, tourism and gaming.

Biloxi Lighthouse, Biloxi, Mississippi

One of the most photographed landmarks in the South and a beacon of welcome and hope is the cast iron Biloxi Lighthouse, which was built in Baltimore and then shipped south and completed in May 1848. It has survived the devastating hurricanes of 1906, 1947, 1969 (Camille), and 2005 (Katrina). The Biloxi Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and is one of only two surviving lighthouses of the twelve that once dotted the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I’m hungry, how about you? Let’s get started on this whirlwind tour of the renowned cuisine of the Gulf Coast.

Day One of our tasting tour started appropriately with beignets at Triplett-Day Drug Company in Gulfport. Triplett-Day, and like all the restaurants we visited that day, is family owned. Triplett-Day is a pharmacy, soda fountain, and gift shop where the elders talk politics over coffee and the beignets are lauded as better than Cafe du Monde’s. And I would have to agree – lighter, fluffier and less greasy by far. Give me these over the cronut any day!

Beignets
Beignets

I held myself back and stopped at one beignet knowing that our afternoon was filled with an unbelievable five more tasting stops. Lulu’s, 200 North, J’s Restaurant and Mindy’s Cafe in Bay St. Louis and Dempsey’s in Kiln, the former stomping grounds of local boy Brett Favre (NFL quarterback best known for his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, holds nearly every major career passing record, including passing yards, touchdowns and victories as a starting quarterback).

Perhaps because we visited early on, but my tastebuds declared 200 North, a spirited restaurant backed by a lot of gumption, well worth a stop to Bay St. Louis while in the Gulf Coast area. The Blackened Redfish, Andouille Sausage Hash and Crawfish Étoufée combined all the flavors that the Gulf Coast is famous for in beautiful harmony. The local caught redfish was crusted in peppery spices and quickly seared. Each tender, moist  bite was complemented by the fresh flavors and subtle smokiness of the Andouille sausage hash, and rich complexity of crawfish étoufée.  Our tasting plate servings were the perfect size, a regular serving would surely give you with enough to savor later on. Top that trinity of Cajun/Creole specialties off with owner Ann Tidwell’s 77-year old recipe for Chocolate Pecan pie and I was ready to curl up on the bus for a little nap.

200 North restaurant, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

The towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis were hit by the eye of Hurricane Katrina and completely destroyed. It took two years, from 2009-2011 to clean up the devastation that was their former restaurant and rebuild. Chef Mark Daniels hails from St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans and explained their shared vision for 200 North. They bring affordable, high quality food to the table, make all their sauces in house including a blonde and a dark roux, and are adding a selection of lighter, healthy dishes with emphasis on local produce.

200 North faces the waterfront where one of the infamous angel sculptures of Bay St. Louis. What were once beautiful live oaks which died as a result of the violent winds and flood waters of Hurricane Katrina live on as the “Hurricane Katrina Carved Angels”, transformed by chain-saw wood sculptor, Dayle K. Lewis from Indiana. “The “Demontluzin Avenue Angel” located near 200 North was used as a life raft by three Katrina survivors  and their dog. So when I say gumption, this is what I’m talking about – the three survivors were owner Ms. Ann’s husband, her son-in-law, a professional hurricane hunter  – and Nicki Moon and her dog from the B&B next door, who clung to the tree overnight and lived to tell about it.

Katrina Angels, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis Restaurants

Lulu’s owner Nancy, a former chef at Commander’s Palace; Gumbo from J’s Restaurant;

Bay St. Louis Katrina Angel; alligator, shrimp, and boudin bites at Mindy’s Cafe

Other stops included Lulu’s, Mindy’s Cafe and J’s Restaurant. All family owned and, we realized as we looked back on our day, all run by women! And that includes Dempsey’s, our last food stop on this culinary extravaganza which ended at Lazy Magnolia Brewery (Yay, I needed a digestif!). Dempsey’s is a little off the beaten path, located in the tiny hamlet of Kiln (population 2,238)  which boasts another notable attraction – The Broke Spoke, a rural beer joint whose claim to fame is the  lingerie hanging from the ceiling (you have to see it to believe it) and being the former hangout of native son Brett Favre. Kiln is famous for their moonshine and this South Mississippi dive bar became famous when crowds of Wisconsin fans descended upon Kiln in 1997 to see Favre lead the Packers to victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI creating an unexpected and enduring kinship between Green Bay Packer fans and the locals of Kiln where Brett Favre’s success is their success. {Source: ESPN}

The Broke Spoke

There’s that, and Dempsey’s.

Dempsey’s is a spacious family-style seafood, steak and Cajun restaurant, where the seafood is as fresh as this morning’s catch and the ample menu includes seafood platters, salads, 5 steak options, po’ boys, pasta, trout, catfish, redfish, frog legs, crawfish, shrimp, oysters prepared every possible way and, the best part – not everything is fried. Although fried is the only way to have the excellent Soft Shell Crab Florentine, the batter was light, a little bit spicy,perfectly crispy, yet not greasy and held up to the creamy Florentine sauce. A squeeze of lemon to add some acid and brightness – I would return for this dish again and again.

Soft Shell Crab Florentine

Dempsey’s was nearly everyone else’s favorite and showcased several of the rich, French-influenced au gratin dishes on the menu. The 3-Way Broiled Seafood Au Gratin and Blackened Shrimp & Grits were simply too heavy and cheesy for me. That being said, the cheese sauce was delicious and our server explained that it is a highly guarded family recipe, but she did mention Monterey Jack.  The grits on the Shrimp & Grits were served in squares achieved by pouring cooked grits into a tray, refrigerating and then cutting into squares –  I’ve seen polenta served like this but never grits. Piled high with shrimp, it was utterly decadent and I can see why it’s one of the most popular items on the menu.

Owner Diane Hennessey chatted with us about the restaurant’s history and post Katrina story. Dempsey’s has been in the current location for three years, the previous location was in Waveland which was wiped out by Katrina. The most popular dishes are the Nawlins BBQ Shrimp in a sauce of compound butter, rosemary, oregano, basil, garlic and wine, and the Blackened Shrimp & Grits. The desserts, with the exception of the well-known Tiramisu which is made by Claudio who is Italian, are not made in house, neither is the bread, and the secret to their fried food is in the batter, naturally!

Blackened Shrimp & Grits at Dempsey's #cajun #seafood #shrimp

Which of these dishes has you craving a trip to the Gulf Coast? New Orleans is what springs to mind when Cajun, Creole, or Gulf seafood is mentioned, but as you can see, you don’t need to be in New Orleans to experience America’s most famous regional cuisine.

There’s lots going on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Besides the 62 miles of scenic shoreline where you can enjoy sunning on the beach or get active on jet skis, aqua cycles, or even rent a Catamaran; there’s gaming at the casino resorts (pools, spas, and golf, too), a music or food festival practically every weekend, and some of the best seafood in the world. The Gulf Coast offers a more family-friendly environment than Las Vegas and a Mardi Gras with all the traditions but less madness than New Orleans – check it out next time you’re looking to get away.

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One Response to “Gulf Coast Cuisine – A Seafood Lover’s Dream”

  1. Kim - Liv Life
    June 4 at 9:05 pm #

    I’ve never visited Mississippi, but you have me wanting to book a ticket!!

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