By Kara Kimbrough
The burnt ends platter sells out quickly at Murky Waters, so placing an order early in the day is critical. Courtesy photo
Spring, wonderful spring … the official start of vacation season. Before you pack the car or book a flight, consider an alternate plan. Don’t wreck the budget with a long sojourn to an expensive out-of-state resort area filled with pricey restaurants. Instead, look no further than our own Gulf Coast. Besides festivals held almost every weekend, beach walking, shopping, casino hopping, sightseeing and shopping — another great reason to head south is the plethora of authentic Coast restaurants.
I regularly receive emails from readers asking for restaurant recommendations and favorite things to do while visiting our state’s crown jewel. Always on the list are the Mississippi Aquarium, riverboat and schooner cruises and walking over the Biloxi Bay and Bay St. Louis bridges. Food picks range from elaborate fine-dining establishments to local family-owned restaurants. Note: Many restaurants are closed early in the week, so check websites or call for hours of operation before heading south.
First things first, though: The Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau website contains a wealth of information on lodging, RV parks and campgrounds. Also included is a list of things to do, including attending weekly festivals, many centered around local cuisine. Find out more at gulfcoast.org.
Here’s a small sample of some of my favorite restaurants (email me if you’d like more choices):
■ Once you arrive at the beach, choose from among several above-average restaurants on or near the beach. One of my favorites is Shaggy’s in Biloxi. Don’t let the brightly-covered exterior fool you. Shaggy’s serves surprisingly good seafood, sandwiches, burgers and pasta dishes. An outdoor patio overlooking the beach is a bonus.
■ No trip to the Coast is complete without a stop at the Beau Rivage. Even if you’re not an overnight guest, walking through the Beau is a treat — and it’s free. Filled with thousands of flowers, shopping opportunities and a range of dining spots, the Beau is always on my itinerary. If you’re hungry, the daily buffet, Terrace Café and Roasted Bean for coffee and a snack won’t disappoint. However, if your budget allows (check the menu before you book), schedule a special dinner at BR Prime. The well-appointed restaurant’s outstanding steaks, seafood and ambiance are worth every penny.
■ Many tourists and residents head over the bridge to Ocean Springs and drop into The Shed Barbecue & Blues Joint for barbecue. It’s a loud, rustic place; in short, probably not the best choice for those seeking a quiet, refined dining experience. However, The Shed’s smoked ribs and brisket more than compensate for the noise level.
■ My favorite barbeque restaurant (and in my Top 5 of all Coast restaurants in general) is Murky Waters BBQ in downtown Gulfport. The casual dining restaurant’s smoky ribs, wings and burnt ends are among the best I’ve ever tasted. Even the sides are delicious, a rarity in an eatery where meat is the star. There are newer locations in Ocean Springs, Bay St. Louis and Hattiesburg, but the original remains my favorite.
■ Last, if you haven’t visited Mary Mahoney’s, it’s an oversight that needs correcting. The classic Biloxi restaurant has weathered three hurricanes and is still serving its famous gumbo, bread pudding and a multitude of seafood dishes. It’s a little pricey (lunch is less expensive) but the food is always consistent. If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy exploring the building lined with photos of famous diners, including a U.S. president or two. The structure dates to the 1700’s when the Coast was discovered. The oak tree in the courtyard is supposedly even older, originating, some say, thousands of years ago.
In next week’s column, I’ll take you over the bridge to explore the many dining options and attractions in Bay St. Louis.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.