By: Wendy Pramik
Coastal Mississippi spans 62 miles along the Gulf of Mexico and overlooks the Mississippi Sound. Soft, sandy beaches are matched by the Gulf Coast's calm, gentle waves.
Silhouettes of shipping cranes in Gulfport Harbor are steady reminders of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s maritime history. A dozen cities, including Gulfport, comprise Coastal Mississippi.
A lighted Biloxi sign, dating back to 1915, beckons visitors to the city's Town Green, where there's a memorial to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The space sparkles often with community festivals drawing people from neighboring towns.
Austin Sumrall, chef and owner of White Pillars Restaurant and Lounge in Biloxi, Mississippi, has converted a historic home just off the Mississippi Gulf Coast into one of the top eateries in the state. The menu is ,ew Southern cuisine, which Sumrall describes as “taking local, Southern ingredients and doing whatever you want with them.” Diners will find a variety of influences, including Korean, Japanese, Italian, French and Creole, on the eclectic menu.
Chef Austin Sumrall and his wife, Tresse, have introduced several historical touches to White Pillars since opening in late 2017. The graceful Southern mansion, which sits just off Biloxi Bay, was built in 1905 by a local doctor and operated as a restaurant for many years by the Mladinich family. It has been restored after sustaining significant damage by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
White Pillars’ philosophy is to source its ingredients and supplies locally, even including dinnerware and dining tables. An example of local food is this three-way oyster appetizer, which includes French Hermit oysters farmed near Deer Island, just off the Biloxi coast.
Mike Arguelles shucks a French Hermit oyster pulled from his oyster farm near Deer Island, off the coast of Biloxi. Arguelles and his wife, Anita, are among more than a dozen farmers practicing off-bottom aquaculture near Biloxi Harbor. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources provided initial seeding of the oysters that are raised in cages near the water's surface. "I like the challenges of working the farm," Arguelles says. "If we approach a local chef and he asks where the oysters came from, I can just point to the spot."
French Hermit oysters are collected after being drawn from baskets near Deer Island off the coast of Biloxi. A new program supported by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is augmenting the oyster industry in the Gulf Coast region of the state. The delectable oysters often make their way to area restaurants, and visitors can tour the oyster beds.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast's rich history related to the sea is on display at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi. There's 20,000 square feet of exhibit space, a theater, art gallery, research library and the Wade Guice Hurricane Museum. The showpiece is the Nydia, a 30-foot sloop built in 1898, which resides on the museum's second floor and makes a stunning welcome to drivers crossing the Biloxi Bay Bridge.
Just east of Biloxi Bay lies the historic coastal town of Ocean Springs. With streets framed by rows of live oaks, abundant shops and restaurants, Ocean Springs is a walkable representation of Coastal Mississippi. It's also an artistic and nature hub, home to the Walter Anderson Museum, Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center and Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Chef Alex Perry opened Vestige in his hometown of Ocean Springs six years ago, and his theme of flavorful, sustainable Southern food has caught on with locals and visitors alike. The James Beard semifinalist says he likes to find innovative ways to bring flavor to the plate. "With food you don’t leave with something tangible, like a TV or a car. But what you have is a good experience, the memory of it. We want our customers to leave with that positive impression."
The Little Room is a big attraction at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs. It's the actual space where the local artist and naturalist worked in seclusion up until his death in 1965. The vivid murals represent Anderson's vision of Horn Island, a wild slice of land a few miles off the Mississippi coast, where he liked to spend much of his time.
Chocolates, pralines, fudge, nuts, turtles, pecan logs, they’re all available at the Candy Cottage in Ocean Springs. Rose Carbonell operates the sweets shop that eventually emerged from her grandparents’ 1930s-vintage restaurant.
The Candy Cottage’s Southern-style confections include potato chips dipped in a variety of chocolate.
Ocean Springs has several antique and vintage stores in its lively downtown.
Local food writer Julian Brunt prepares shrimp and grits for a visiting group at the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The arts center, housed in a former public-school building constructed in 1927, is a vibrant part of the community, offering a 383-seat theater, an art gallery, a history museum, a demonstration kitchen and summer camps in the visual and performing arts.
Julian Brunt's shrimp and grits, prepared at the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs, includes local gulf shrimp cooked in butter and olive oil with green peppers, garlic and onions; seasoned collard greens topped with chow-chow; and The Original Grit Girl grits prepared with ham. "Shrimp and grits is a low-country recipe that migrated here," says Brunt, who writes for Mississippi Magazine. "Southern cooking seems to be a lot more popular now than in the past."
A tiny, brightly colored building on Government Street in downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi, houses the Tato-Nut Donut Shop, one of the best sweet treats on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The late Robert Gerald "Bob" Mohler founded the shop in 1960 using a potato-flour-based dough. His family carries on the legacy of making doughnuts fresh every day.
The Greenhouse on Porter in Ocean Springs has offered a friendly twist on the traditional coffeehouse since opening four years ago. The dream of co-owners Kait Sukinnik and Jessie Zenor sells tasty pour-over coffees, teas, cocktails and biscuits, both sweet and savory. Poetry, trivia, drum circles, yoga and other unique pursuits find their way to the menu of activities.
The Greenhouse on Porter has a communal dining area in its former plant-raising space that invites conversation. "We really wanted to push the focus of community here," says co-owner Kait Sukiennik. "We want people to get to know each other."
Benny McCoy of McCoy's Swamp and River Tours in Moss Point, Mississippi, leads a boat tour along the Pascagoula River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the United States. The two-hour ramble leaves from the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and ventures past waving fiddler crabs, wading egrets and sunning alligators.
A lunchtime crowd of diners packs the tables at Bozo’s Seafood Market and Deli, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Bozo's has been one of the top spots for seafood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1956. The market sells fish, shrimp, oysters and a wide collection of pantry staples, and the sandwich counter is open for those who want to eat in. Bozo’s recently added an adjacent restaurant space.
A feast of fresh seafood, burgers and sandwiches is on the menu at Bozo’s Seafood Market, including the ever-popular shrimp po' boy. The breezy deck is a great place to relax and enjoy the food.
A centerpiece of Coastal Mississippi's arts scene is the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, which lies just off the main coastal highway in Biloxi. It boasts some of the many works of George Ohr, the self-proclaimed "Mad Potter" of Biloxi, whose late 19th-century works at first drew apprehension from the public before being recognized as masterpieces after his death. Noted architect Frank Gehry designed the museum, which features several stainless steel-clad pods sprinkled among live oak trees.
A pelican roosts near the shore at Small Craft Harbor in Biloxi, where fishing is king. Visitors can cast a rod from a pier or charter a boat for some deep-sea fishing, allowing a captain to handle licensing, bait and tackle.
Dave Graham, with Biloxi Shrimping Trip, prepares nets aboard the Sail Fish for an upcoming shrimping expedition. The touring company has been showing visitors the finer points of catching shrimp since 1954. The Sail Fish sets sail three times daily during the summer, and the company also offers a variety of fishing trips from the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.
Participants in the Biloxi Shrimping Trip have a chance to get up close and personal with shrimp and other sea creatures the captain hauls in with his nets.
TJ the Boat Dog soaks up attention in between delivering cold drinks to passengers via his vest on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip.
One of the best things about Mississippi's coast is the abundance of fresh-seafood markets. One of the most popular -- and biggest -- is Quality Poultry and Seafood in Biloxi. It dates to the 1950s, when chickens were raised on the site. Now, it’s a major supplier of catfish, redfish, salmon, crab and many other seafood varieties.
A sampling of crabs for sale at Quality Poultry and Seafood.
An on-point representation of Coastal Mississippi cuisine is the shrimp plate at Rosetti's Old Biloxi Cafe inside Quality Poultry and Seafood. Diners also can opt for "pressed" po' boys such as the Rosetti, a blue crab patty with melted American cheese on freshly baked French bread.
Le Bakery is a French-style bakery and Vietnamese restaurant on the east side of Biloxi that specializes in sweets baked daily as well as banh mi sandwiches on house-based French loaves, known around these parts as Vietnamese po' boys. Biloxi has had a strong Vietnamese community since refugees sought out the Gulf Coast in the late 1970s.
Sue Nguyen, owner of Le Bakery in Biloxi, presents two of the eatery’s banh mi sandwiches. Nguyen’s parents established the popular bakery and sandwich shop after fleeing Vietnam in the 1970s. “You can see the mayor here, or the construction worker,” Nguyen says. “I feel we’ve bridged the gap between different generations, economics and people.”
Le Cafe Beignet is a casual eatery featuring New Orleans-inspired dishes in the ornate former Biloxi Public Library, a stone's throw from U.S. Highway 90 along the coast. The cafe is open daily for breakfast and lunch.
Beignets are the star of the show at Le Cafe Beignet in Biloxi. Owner Sita La'Cap says she uses her grandmother's recipe for the tasty doughnut-like treats. La'Cap, who grew up in Biloxi, moved her cafe to the Spanish Colonial revival building in 2018.
Since 2000, Bankhouse Coffee has offered coffee and espresso, made with house-roasted beans, in a converted 1920s bank in downtown Long Beach, Miss. It's the first of four shops opened by local coffee entrepreneurs Shawn and Lynn Montella, who operate regional roaster Coast Roast Coffee & Tea.
Shawn Montella takes a coffee break inside his Coast Roast Coffee roasting operation in Long Beach, Mississippi. Montella and his wife, Lynn, opened Coast Roast in 2000 to fill out an old bank building they own. Montella also collects coffee making antiques, including roasters, cupping machines, accessories and even spittoons used in the cupping process.
Roasted coffee beans begin the cooling process after exiting a century-old Royal coffee roaster at Coast Roast Coffee's manufacturing facility. Owner Shawn Montella had the classic U.S.-made roasters rebuilt to make most of the company's coffees. "A modern machine roasts with a lot of heat and a lot of convection," Montella says. "This machine roasts with a direct flame on a special drum. It develops the beans slower and provides more of a true roast."
Local ladies flaunt festive costumes commemorating fashion designer Nelson Carter Church, a Bay St. Louis native who passed away in October and was known for dressing Mardi Gras royalty as well as actresses Carol Channing and Elizabeth Taylor. Bay St. Louis is home to a Mardi Gras museum that's located in a historic train depot.
A train heads eastward across Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on its way toward Henderson Point. The small coastal town of Bay St. Louis is an attractive destination for visitors, offering shops, restaurants, a marina and bars on the bay.
Two blocks from the beach in the Old Town section of Bay St. Louis lies the Mockingbird Cafe. The cozy space features local artwork and is a great place to relax with a book while sipping an espresso or having breakfast or lunch.
The front porch is a relaxing spot to enjoy Mockingbird Cafe's Summer Garden Burger and Bloody Mary.
Above-ground burial sites are framed by live oak trees at Cedar Rest Cemetery in Bay St. Louis. This city of 13,000 was sighted by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in 1699 and was incorporated as a town in 1818 by the first legislature of the state of Mississippi.
Photographer Ann Dinwiddie Madden peers out Smith & Lens, a gallery she co-owns with silversmith Sandy Maggio in Bay St. Louis. The adorable shopping district boasts quirky, pint-sized shops and eateries.
Artisan ice pops are what Pop Brothers is all about – with flavors such as Autumn Plum, Matcha Green Tea and Bananas Foster. There are three Pop Brothers locations in Coastal Mississippi, including this one in Bay St. Louis.
Rachael Ramsey tends to lettuce plants at Ruth's Roots community garden in Bay St. Louis. The garden, adjacent to the Hancock County Youth Court, is an urban oasis designed to assist non-violent, young drug offenders. Former youth court judge Elise Deano set up the garden in 2016.
Ruth's Roots community garden is named for the late wife of local businessman Jim Thompson, who donated use of the land and contains lettuce tables, vegetable beds, a rabbit habitat, chicken cages and bee hives. There's also a cabinet containing household items for community use.
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