By Larry Olmsted
The scene: President's Day weekend has us thinking about where presidents like to eat. While President Donald Trump has been known to eat KFC and McDonald's, Great American Bites has visited many notable establishments patronized by past presidents — all the way back to George Washington. These spots can be found in politically historic destinations such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and less obvious spots such as Boulder, Colo., and Biloxi, Miss. These are the great American restaurants where presidents have dined.
Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in Biloxi, Miss: One of my all-time favorite Great American Bites venues, Mary Mahoney’s has been a family-owned Biloxi, Miss., landmark for half a century. It occupies the oldest home in Biloxi, built in 1737, yet sits within easy reach of the many large casino resorts that form the city’s tourist center. It is a classic New Orleans restaurant that happens to not be in New Orleans, but is cut from the same elegant cloth as Commanders Palace, Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s. The restaurant was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, and today the wall outside is marked to indicate the astonishing height to which the water rose, 15 feet, filling the first floor. But Mary Mahoney’s was painstakingly repaired and has not lost a step.
You enter through a dark, welcoming and well-used bar, adorned with photos of famous patrons like former presidents George H.W. Bush and Reagan, who once had the restaurant cater a meal on the White House lawn. Seafood, fresh from the Gulf of Mexico (across the street) is the specialty, and appetizers include shrimp or crab meat cocktails, crab cakes, crab claws and fried soft-shell crabs. New Orleans classics such as shrimp or crab meat remoulade, crawfish etouffee and oyster stew are also well represented, along with an award-winning seafood gumbo so locally popular that it is sold to go by the gallon. Many seafood entrees are adorned with crab meat, such as the Flounder Imperial, a whole deboned flounder stuffed with crab — not crab salad, or any kind of bread stuffing, just pure lump crab meat.
The standout signature dish is the St. Patrick, created when a customer saw a waiter serving escargot in traditional Burgundian fashion, and asked them to sub Gulf shrimp for snails. This incredible recipe uses a dimpled escargot dish, each recess filled with a whole shrimp topped with lots of chopped garlic, butter and spinach, then baked. Of course, this being Mary Mahoney’s, the plate is then topped with lump crab meat. Since not everyone eats seafood, the restaurant also offers a wide array of grilled meats, including rib eye and strip steaks, lamb chops, veal and pork chops, and the quality is very high. There is an extensive wine list and the desserts are excellent, especially the pecan pie, Mississippi mud pie, praline parfait and signature bread pudding with rum sauce.
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