Exploring the Food Scene in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

While the Biloxi/Gulfport area is fairly well-known, I’m a fan of the little gems that few people outside the area know about. In this case, I’m talking about the artsy town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The town, east of Biloxi and connected by the Biloxi Bay Bridge, is great for a weekend stay. It’s a few hours drive from my home base, but very doable if “getting out of town” is on the agenda. My family and I recently made the trip one weekend in May. The first place we stopped was on the very busy Washington Avenue. This tree-lined street has many adorable little shops and my favorite place for dessert, French Kiss Pastries (714 Washington Avenue; 228-215-1160). The shop is small, but the desserts (we sampled eclairs and German Chocolate Cake), are rich and flavorful. Besides the cookies and cakes, there is also gelato and the infamous Louisiana-based Community coffee.

Ocean Springs’ beaches are a lot less crowded than Biloxi or Gulfport. We spent an afternoon at Fort Maurepas Park (at the end of Washington Avenue) before trying Leo’s Wood-fired Pizza (1107 Government St, 228-872-7283). This restaurant is a great place to have an early dinner. It’s deliciously Italian. Seating is indoors or out; most head outside to the courtyard. The courtyard has a small bar and televisions, and of course, over 20 beers beer on tap. The pizzas are thin-crusted and named after celebrities (my favorite is the Frank Sinatra). After dinner, we walked around downtown. The people of Ocean Springs are very friendly. Some shops may still be open to u, or do what we did and take the kids for a treat at the “Hot Light” (Krispy Kreme) afterwards. Unfortunately for us, we missed Ocean Springs’ favorite place for donuts, Tato-nut (1114 Government St, 228-872-2076). They are either closed or were renovating when we come through town. If anyone gets here, please let me know how your visit went!

Of course, you can’t spend some time on the coast and not have some delicious seafood. One of the first restaurants we ever tried was McElroy’s on the Bayou (705 Bienville Blvd. 228-818-4600). Literally right off the bridge, McElroy’s is a casual, family-friendly establishment with a great view. Everything from shrimp po-boys to flounder to soft-shell crab is here. If you can, save some room for the gumbo stew. 🙂 There is a kids’ menu available if needed. Other great seafood suggestions are Anthony’s Under the Oaks (1217 Washington Avenue, 228-872-4564) and BB’s Po-boys and Seafood (1300 Bienville Blvd, 228-875-2702). The restaurants have only dinner (5 pm-9 pm) or lunchtime hours (11am-3pm) respectively.

Wherever your trip along the Gulf Coast takes you, there is sure to be something you haven’t tried. Start with the food!

How to Have a Crawfish Boil

I have been to a few crawfish boils since moving to the Deep South over a decade ago. Crawfish boils are very popular in this area of the country, but particularly in Louisiana. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana was reigned “Crawfish Capital of the World” in 1959 for the farming done there. The state also  has designated the shellfish as its state crustacean (there are only 3 other states that also have one-Oregon, Maryland, and Maine). Generally, from February-June, crawfish is the guest of honor at every festival and backyard barbeque everywhere.

Crawfish 101

Crawfish, also known as mudbugs, were foreign to me when I first moved to the area. They are popular on the Gulf Coast and Texas because they live in the mud of the bayous. For the most part, crawfish are the smaller version of the lobster. Unlike my Maryland roots and learning to mallet to death a crab, crawfish are easier to get to. They snap in the middle and the fat is at the head and the (little bit) of meat is at the tail. A good crawfish boil depends on the amount of people you are entertaining, but the number to aim for is 40lbs of crawfish or 2-3 lbs a person (but preferably much) more.

Crawfish Cooking

Buy the crawfish in the morning from a reputable seafood company. As aforementioned, how much you buy is up to the number attending the party or festival. Make sure you’ve got a cooler with you. The first part to any crawfish boil (and crab-eating too) is beer. What else should you be doing while waiting for the meal to cook? Drinking (we like Abita’s Andygator, if you have it locally). I can only say from experience that it’s part of the party. It just is. Throw down plenty of newspaper on the tables and grab the propane to get started. In a very large stockpot, add water, sliced corn on the cob, red potatoes, some (Zatarain’s) crab boil, and a box of salt. (Don’t forget the stirring spoon!) I have heard of others putting in mushrooms and onions, but the barbecues I’ve attended have not.  Let the vegetables cook and then  add the crawfish and andouille sausage next. How spicy the one-pot meal will be is completely a personal preference with the spices used. In my neck of the woods, we use Old Bay for our seafood. In the South (and especially Louisiana), it’s Tony Chachere’s.  Let the crawfish and vegetables sit for 30 minutes or so in the broth.

That’s it! As with many things, there is a 1,001 ways to do something. Experiment with the recipe to find your liking and enjoy! And remember-don’t forget the beer! 🙂