Mississippi Yearning

by Greg Mayer

During a recent visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast I was able to sample the culinary offerings of Long Beach, a small town right on the water. Long Beach has resisted casinos, Walmart, and other unwanted development, and so it presents a longer stretch of uncluttered sand beach than surrounding communities. Like other towns on the Coast, it was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, and wind-sculpted oaks along now empty lots on the coast show that the climate has shaped this area for a long time.

Wind-sculpted oaks.

Long Beach’s redevelopment has focused on its downtown, a few blocks from the beach. Restaurants are among the prominent features.

Hancock County Bank Building (one of the oldest buildings in town), Long Beach, MS

Most famous is Darwell’s Cafe, at the northeast side of downtown, just south of the railroad tracks. In this part of Mississippi, the predominant cultural influence comes from the direction of New Orleans.

Darwell's, Long Beach, MS

I had shredded smoked pork with barbecue sauce on the side, my daughter had the etouffe, and my wife couldn’t decide, ordering the sampler with etouffe, gumbo, and shrimp creole.

Darwell's etouffe

Darwell's sampler

When we arrived the place was packed, but Darwell himself found us a table, not far from the live entertainment (a trio: drum, guitar, trombone).

Darwell Yeager

Earlier we’d had lunch at Lil’ Ray’s, in the heart of the downtown, where po boys were the order of the day. These sandwiches, on a light french bread, come dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayonnaise. I had a cajun popcorn (=crawfish) po boy, with a side of gumbo.

Lil' Ray's, Long Beach, MS

Both Darwell’s and Lil’ Ray’s have varying degrees of eccentric local character (well, Darwell’s has loads of it), but another dinner was at a less place-bound restaurant- you could find similar establishments in many other locales. The Harbor View Cafe, built since the hurricane, has a broad veranda, that does indeed afford a view of the Gulf.

Harbor View Cafe, Long Beach, MS

I had the Crawfish Monica, pasta with lots of crawfish, and a delicious, chocolatey Jefferson Stout, from Mississippi’s own Lazy Magnolia brewery.

Crawfish Monica at the Harbor View Cafe

Lazy Magnolia's nut brown ale; I didn't get a picture of the stout.

And for dessert, a fine selection of cakes.

Desserts at Harbor View Cafe, Long Beach, MS

How good a meal is depends upon the quality of the food, the ambiance, and, when traveling, how much the food reflects the local ingredients and traditions (rather than something you could get anywhere). On all these points, Darwell’s etouffe is the standout, so if you have only one meal in Long Beach, go to Darwell’s for the etouffe.

15 Comments

  1. Posted January 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    O’man, what a trip!
    I for some reason fell totally for Crawfish Monica. If I ever make it down there, that’s what I’ll order….

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. microraptor
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    That looks delicious.

  3. Diane G.
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Well, that was a most pleasant escape from my 10º F, 8″ of snow reality! But now I’m terribly hungry . . .

    Most evocative. You give Jerry a run for his money on these travel/local cuisine posts.

  4. Posted January 15, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    We certainly do have some good food down here. I’m only about an hour from Long Beach, and your pictures make me think it has been too long since I took a day trip.

  5. Glenn Butler
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are geographically distributed along the gulf coast and north along the east coast to Virginia. They have very dense wood, probably twice as dense as white pine (Pinus strobus). They tend to grow broader and not as tall as trees native to the inland Eastern North American forest. Their strength and stout architecture allow them to withstand hurricane winds, conditions that will uproot and destroy many of their competitors. However their lack of fast growth and relative lack of mature height restricts their natural range.

    A mature live oak, is surely among the most majestic of trees on our planet.

    http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=78

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 15, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      At the northern tip of its range, there are some live oaks in Williamsburg VA along the wall that bounds Wm & Mary. They add considerable character to the campus.

      I like many oaks but I’m particulary partial to Quercus robur (aka English oak, which is kinda cheeky since it grows all over Europe). Left alone, they can grow to a spectacular size and age. Without Q robur, the European sailing navies might not have been possible.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

        Absolutely.

        We are steeped in the tradition of planting trees for the next generations if nothing else, the kings made it an edict for slow growing oaks to support the fleets. (You probably know about Sweden as well as I do. I am extrapolating to the rest.)

        War and/or defense is an organizing effort, and that influence on society is one of their few positive effects.

  6. Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Wow, that looks like most excellent fare.

  7. Marsha
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the positive reports!! I love in Long Beach and love those places and out little towm

  8. Karla
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I am from long beach and my mom an sister still live there. Thanks so much for highlighting some of the many great things to be found in this quaint little town. Hopefully this will help spark more people to stop through and eat! It will surely help long beach to continue to recover! Thanks again!

  9. Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    How very true

  10. Philip
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I haven’t had the Jefferson stout, but the Pecan nut brown pictured is a very good ale. The Lazy Magnolia Summer Ale is not bad either. As for Crawfish Monica, it is a staple of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and is always served there with corkscrew pasta, to maximize the sauce uptake. I’m getting hungry.

  11. daveau
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I have a life long friend in Gulfport, who moved down there some 25+ years ago, so I’ve been down there. Beautiful area as I remember, but nearly everything south of the tracks was wiped out by Katrina. Haven’t been down there since, but thanks for the wonderful dining guide for next trip. Long Beach is gorgeous, but even years ago they were trucking in sand to replace the stuff eroded by hurricanes, and it was more coarse than the native stuff.

  12. Paula
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I am from LB but currently live in Dallas, TX. There is nothing out here that compares to the local flavor and atmosphere of the non-chain restaurants that abound in my little home town

  13. Fritzi Presley
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    As a native daughter of the Mississippi Gulf Coast…Long Beach to be specific…I must say how DELIGHTED I am that you had the pleasure of tasting a “little slice of paradise”. I live two blocks from Darwell’s, and have yet to sample everything on their wall-to-wall-to-wall-to-wall menu, but it’s not from a lack of tryin’. It seems that just when I’ve almost gotten to the bottom of the list, they add more goodies and new twists to old favorites…Glad you got to be here, buddy…an’ thanks for likin’ out little town…~Smile~


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