Made in Mississippi: Flavors only found on the Gulf Coast

Anne Roderique-Jones, Special for USA TODAY

6:15 a.m. ET March 13, 2017

The Mississippi Gulf Coast might be one of the few true hidden gems left in our country. After being decimated by Hurricane Katrina, the area — comprised of three coastal counties, 14 cities and communities, and 62 miles of sandy beaches and warm waters that overlook the Gulf of Mexico — is still unknown to many. Here, residents passionately support local businesses and quaint storefronts pepper the streets, still void of sprawling condos. The locals are often artistic, they likely know how to cook a good southern meal, but one thing is for certain: they’re as hospitable as they come.

Aside from the charming community and pretty beaches, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a hotbed for fine food. There’s Lulu’s on Main, helmed by Nancy Moynan, an alumnus of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, who serves reinvented Creole cuisine in her eatery-slash-retail shop. There are wine bars, dive bars and an artisanal popsicle shop. And of course, a biscuit joint, located in a former greenhouse where you’ll find hipsters, babies, and even a cat hanging out on the back patio.

Hotel Whiskey is the first property to open in Pass Christian, Miss. in 90 years and is home to an elegant restaurant. If you’re looking for the real-deal steakhouse experience — and perhaps a respite from traditional Gulf fare — the USDA prime steaks are cooked perfectly and served (as they should be) with a classic creamed spinach or potato.

And a trip to the Gulf won’t be complete if you don’t seek out Darwell’s Café in Long Beach, Miss. Here, owner Papa D (and most of his family) has created an eatery with enough kitsch to land a spot on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. While the food is insanely good (try the silky crawfish etouffee), it’s meeting Papa D himself that’s worth making the trek. Ask him to draw your portrait on a Styrofoam drink cup — just be patient — he may be outside jamming with the band.

Browse our photo gallery above for the must-eat (and drink) places on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.