A Bit of the Old South: Mississippi Review

On April 17, 2012, in Travel, by admin

On a recent trip to visit relatives I was able to spend a few days on the Mississippi Gulf coast.  This area had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina a number of years ago, but has really pulled itself together.   We are focusing on the Biloxi-Ocean Springs area specifically on this review.  On the way there, however, we made a short stop in Lake Charles La. at L’auberge Hotel and Casino.  I had seen numerous ads for it, so we ran by.  This is a beautiful property, fronted by an immaculate golf course.  The hotel has approx 700 rooms in 26 stories and dominates the landscape.  Inside, the floors and walls were dark wood and stone, some modern-art type decorations, several huge gas-log fireplaces inviting you to sit for a while on this chilly early spring day.  Early afternoon on a Saturday, the casino was packed—all table games were at least $10 min but the casino was large, a little smoky.  The staff were all friendly.  The hotel lobby was more of the same décor.  There were several restaurants, alas, all with Vegas food prices (that is NOT a compliment).  We loved the pool area, with wooden decks and a “lazy river” to float around on an inner tube.  It had a swim-up blackjack table and swim up bar.  Very nice place but a little pricy for the “Low Budget Review guy”.

Onward to Biloxi, et al.  The 11 hr drive was taxing, but no pain, no gain.  After a few days of family business, we were able to hit the beach in Biloxi.  That area has miles and miles of (man-made) white sand beach.  The beach was in great shape, clean, soft, relaxing.  The BP oil spill mess that had gotten so much press last year or so did not affect Biloxi beach—no oil , no tar balls. They were fortunate.   Although the beach was clean, the water is not pretty.  This is not Cozumel/Cancun or even the Florida Gulf coast.  There are numerous rivers within a 50 mile radius and that brings a lot of mud, wood debris, etc.  The water is usually a dusky brown and visibility is maybe 4-5 feet.  It was still pretty cold in mid-march, but just strolling up and down the beach in calf-deep water was actually very pleasant.  If you are looking for wave-action these beaches will disappoint.  There are a string of barrier islands a few miles off the coast and they absorb most of the incoming waves-by the time they get to Biloxi beach the waves are less than a foot.  However, that is one a several reasons why generations of people have brought their families to the Biloxi-Gulfport beaches.  It is a perfect beach for smaller children.

We found plenty of parking at the parking area at the historic Biloxi Lighthouse (predates the Civil War).  The long wooden fishing pier with several covered nooks for getting out of the sun or rain, had quite a few folks there trying their luck.  We had a great afternoon, soaking up rays, chatting with beach walkers, throwing a nerf football.  Living in land-locked central Texas, it is a true joy to listen to the waves gently brush the shore, smell the salt and sea-wrack, listen to the greedy gulls all shouting, “Mine. Mine!”  Later we just drove up the beach road, looking at the rebuilding slowly coming back along the shore.  The hundreds of mom-and-pop- motels that sheltered families for 60+ years were mostly wiped clean from Hurricane Katrina, along with the funky souvenir shops and local dives, bars, restaurants.  Dozens of houses, some over a century old survived, but many were lost along with massive oak trees that were hundreds of years older or older.  Still a beautiful drive though.

   Later in the visit we took lunch at “Mary Mahoney’s Old French House”. The brick building, while expanded over the years, still has most of the original house built in 1757.  Amazing.  A huge squat oak tree shelters the entryway where a sign states the tree is over 2000 years old.  Hard to believe.  Mary Mahoney’s was for many years THE upscale dining spot between Mobile and New Orleans.  Now that the many Casinos have arrived, there are a number of other highly-reviewed dining options, but Mary’s is still near the top.  The female greeting staff were all in dresses, the wait staff in professional waistcoats and long sleeves.  The staff is attentive without being intrusive.  My impression is that to apply for a wait staff position, many years of experience is required.  The food was wonderful.  The menu tilts towards seafood, as it should being literally about 4 blocks from the gulf.  I had a wonderfully lightly fried chicken breast with hint of spice and pepper, delicious.  Other dishes ordered were crab cakes, shrimp pasta Alfredo, and fried shrimp.  All were beautifully presented and exquisite.  Bread pudding or sorbet was the desert of choice and is one of their “claims to fame”.  I highly recommend this restaurant.  Lunch prices were quite reasonable for this upscale restaurant.

     Later that night we made a visit to The Palace Resort and Casino.  This Casino has recently completed a major upgrading and it shows.  The decorations, carpet and design are all first class.  They are also the only smoke-free Casino on the coast. The difference is palpable and very much appreciated.  We hunkered down at the sports bar, playing video poker and drinking the free booze.  My companion had much better luck, but it was very fun.  I can heartily endorse the Palace.   The menu at the sports bar is not vast but offers several enticing options.  I hear the Shrimp Po’Boy is the best on the Coast.  Several other Casinos were visited during this trip as well. Most were bigger but certainly not better.  The exception was The Beau Rivage.  This upscale casino is reminiscent of The Wynn in Vegas, and as well it should, as it was originally designed, built and owned by Steve Wynn.  The decorations, the restaurants, the location on the water, all make this a true destination resort.   However, the prices also reflect that in food, rooms, and table minimums.  Expensive, but worth a visit even if just to walk around.

The next day I decided to “walk the bridge”.  The original bridge having been destroyed by Katrina, a new beautiful soaring bridge has been constructed across Biloxi Bay from the small art community of Ocean Springs to Biloxi.  This bridge strongly reminded me of the bridge to Coronado Island in San Diego, though not as tall or as long.  The distance is just under 2 miles, and along with two lanes of traffic each way, they have a pedestrian/bike walkway.  It is quite popular to “walk the bridge” at all hours of the day or night.  So, being dropped at the Biloxi end, we headed towards Ocean Springs.  About every 1/10 of a mile, a beautifully crafted 3-D bronze art piece is embedded into the bridge side.  These pieces depict coastal animals, such as crabs, gulls, shrimp, dolphins, and includes scenes of fishing, etc.   While walking, one can easily see the shrimp boats, oyster boats, fishing charters, and pleasure craft coming in and out of the Bay.  Just a mile or so away lies Deer Island, which has always mysteriously called to me to come explore.  It beaches are pure white, the pine trees rise tall, and the lure of “Buried Treasure” calls.   Alas, it would require a boat, kayak, or a swim to visit.  One day perhaps.  Our hike to Ocean Springs came to an end too soon.  On that side is a new fishing pier, and wonderfully creative tile murals decorated the side.  Well done.  I would walk it again, but slower perhaps to enjoy the gulf view and cooling breezes.

Our time was rapidly coming to a close so we elected to not try our golf skills at any of the several dozen challenging (and expensive) courses in the area.   We did have one more experience not to be missed:  The Shed.  The Shed is a BBQ “joint” in the best sense of the word.  It is deliciously obvious that the owners take their ‘cue seriously, having won numerous awards, regionally and nationally over the past few years.  Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of the dining room/shack.  The pits were not harmed (thank goodness) and they quickly reorganized by bringing in some food trailers, set up about 20 picnic tables, some with shade and some not, and are smoking away.  They offer live blues music several nights a week, and if you aint there by 5 on those nights, you aint getting in.  Many different varieties of cold beer are available.  Cold beer and BBQ—does it get any better?  I don’t think so.

On this visit, we were picking up to-go.  Their brisket wasn’t ready yet, so we settled for other offerings.  This being east of the Mississippi River, most BBQ is pork.  And I am OK with that, though being a Texas BBQ aficionado, I prefer beef.   Getting a sampler plate, I had outstanding pulled pork and wonderful, meaty, smoky, Pork Ribs slathered in sauce.  Previous visits have brought me the best BBQ chicken I have ever had.    The coleslaw was fresh, tender but crunchy, sweet with a tang.  Well done.  The potato salad may be the best I have ever had anywhere.  It is harder to describe, with flavor-bursting texture. A true classic.   I would love their recipe.  They are located right off I-10 on exit 57 (Hwy 57),-The Shed should be a “ must-do” experience for anyone who loves BBQ.

In summary, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a different destination, but well worth the visit.  Lots to do, lots to see, lots to experience.  I will be back soon….

 

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