Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and its remarkable citizens have fought and scratched their way back from the shocking catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, followed a few years later by the calamity to the economy brought on by the Exxon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The natural beauty of the area, the abundant food sources in the waters, and the fierce dedication and determination of the people to rebuild even better than before make it a place to visit, admire, and become inspired.
Travel to Bay St. Louis and not only will you be amazed at their progress, you will enjoy every morsel you taste in the town’s eclectic restaurants. Five great eateries in particular showcase Bay St. Louis, Mississippi's food. They will leave a mouth-watering impression and have you making plans to return again and again.
Cuz’s Old Town Oyster Bar and Grill, located across from the harbor right on Beach Boulevard, epitomizes the casual vibe of its likeable owner. Melvin “Cuz” Barnes loves cooking for his customers and making them feel at home. Cuz’s is well known for its boiled seafood, particularly shrimp, crabs, and crawfish, but it’s also a good place for raw oysters and piles of fried fish, French fries, and hushpuppies.
Salads topped with seafood and po’boys are also featured on the menu, but be sure to save room for Cuz’s bread pudding. It’s made according to a long-held family recipe, and Cuz refuses to allow any raisins in it.
Cuz formerly owned a seafood market and restaurant on Breath’s Bayou on Highway 603. At that time, he caught his own fish. His success at that location led to the opportunity to open in Bay St. Louis, but he still maintains close ties with area fishermen who provide him with the freshest catch possible. You will feel a part of the community when you eat a meal at Cuz’s. There is plenty of indoor dining space, but the large outdoor patio is perfect for catching those warm Gulf breezes.
Bogart’s is the fine-dining restaurant inside Bay St. Louis’s Hollywood Casino on Hollywood Boulevard. It is open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays only. Bogart’s boasts a wonderful setting for an elegant experience, so be sure to arrive in time to take advantage of the gorgeous bay views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The list of appetizers features a variety of seafood options with favorites such as crab cakes with remoulade sauce and pan-seared scallops. Steaks and veal chops are drool-worthy choices with fork-tender preparations, while creative seafood dishes are also tempting entrees. A popular choice is the blackened redfish with crawfish risotto. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with cheesecake, bread pudding, creme brulee, or a blonde brownie.
Silver Slipper is another casino in Bay St. Louis, and both Silver Slipper and Hollywood Casino offer vast buffets for the more casual diner looking for moderate prices.
Jourdan River Steamer is located a few miles outside Bay St. Louis in the tiny community of Kiln, Mississippi (home of Brett Favre of professional football fame). The Reef Restaurant was originally on the property, but Jourdan River Steamer took up residence in 2003.
Sadly, Hurricane Isaac damaged the building in 2012, and it took years to tear it down and build it back according to FEMA regulations. Owners Hank and Lori Plauche persevered, and the new facility, impressively high off the ground, finally reopened to eager diners in late 2018. The bottom level is used for casual, outdoor events, and there are steps and an elevator leading to the upstairs dining room.
Jourdan River is particularly proud of its culinary staff, known as the Steam Team. There is nothing fried on the menu. In fact, the owners are quick to point out that they don’t even own a fryer. This is seafood at its freshest and simplest. Crabs (king, snow, and Dungeness ), Royal Red shrimp, live Maine lobsters, mussels, and dozens of plump oysters are offered in abundance at Jourdan River Steamer, but you will want to consider one of their hand-cut Certified Angus steaks as well. In the pasta category, the eggplant crab parmesan is excellent.
Owners Jim and Catherine MacPhaille and French-trained Chef Keith Becton lead up the winning team at 200 North Beach Restaurant, where the name and the Bay St. Louis address are one and the same. Chef Becton was born on the island of Martinique, reared in Miami, trained in France, and employed in New Orleans, giving him a rich culinary heritage. He claims to “hang his hat on steaks and seafood” at 200 North Beach, but is able to elevate those dishes because of his culinary training.
Chef Becton’s loyal diners truly appreciate the difference he can make when it comes to the taste of their favorites. Steaks are hand cut in house from 100 percent Black Angus Beef, and Chef Becton is forever perfecting his dry-aging techniques. When it comes to seafood, his version of speckled trout almondine is extremely popular, and diners have been known to drive for miles when they know his seared tuna with mushroom risotto is on the menu. Hand-crafted cocktails and muddled drinks (made with real fruit in the bottom rather than flavored syrups) bring in a steady stream of regulars who come just for the bar.
200 North Beach’s desserts are made from scratch in the kitchen using Chef Becton’s personal recipes, and his white chocolate bread pudding is legendary. The MacPhailles and Chef Becton endeavor to create a complete dining experience for their patrons with the goal of making it the singular choice for special occasions among the people of Bay St. Louis. A balcony lounge on the second floor offers a more casual sports and party atmosphere. 200 North Beach is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
The word “community” comes to mind when you step inside the Mockingbird Cafe at 110 South Second Street in Bay St. Louis. This comforting spot became known as “the living room of the Bay” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As the water receded and people started picking up the pieces of their lives, Mockingbird Cafe was a natural gathering spot. Even now, the vibe remains, and it’s easy to understand why they self-identify as “a small coffee shop, with a big love for community.” Works created by local artists line the walls, and individuals and small groups gather at the wooden tables to study and use the free Wi-Fi while sipping Coast Roast coffee and tea products.
Mockingbird Cafe serves a very hungry breakfast crowd a range of items from homemade granola to Belgian waffles, prosciutto toast, frittatas, and seemingly everything in between. A dozen different salads and sandwiches are offered for lunch with typical pub fare including tacos, burgers, and appetizers offered in the evenings. Mockingbird Cafe has a strong commitment to improving the environment with a strict no-plastics policy. Cups, containers, and bags used for to-go items are all biodegradable, as are the straws.
This is a great place to have conversations with people who live and work in Bay St. Louis, to listen to their stories of survival and to appreciate the hard work they have done. All the better if you engage in these interactions while enjoying one of the many homemade items on their menu.
An unexpected bonus place to get great Bay St. Louis food is the Jet Away Cafe at the Stennis International Airport. It’s only a short drive, the facility is new and beautifully-decorated, and the gumbo comes highly recommended.
The buildings in Bay St. Louis are either new or completely restored, but the cuisine hearkens back to the tastes that have been associated with the Mississippi Gulf Coast for generations -- the freshest seafood possible, a strong seasoning influence from New Orleans, tender steaks, gumbo, and that all-important bread pudding. Go. Support the continuing work of these resilient people. But, mostly, don’t hesitate to eat your way through Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Photo Credit: Cuz's Old Town Oyster Bar & Grill on Facebook