Southern food, southern comfort, and southern hospitality.
These are three things that never grow old on me, no matter how many times I visit Biloxi, New Orleans, and other parts of the Gulf Coast. I have never once had a bad trip to any of the cities that dot the way from Louisiana to Florida, whether my purpose there was work, pleasure, or something in between. Even during the summer when the air is humid and the heat is strong, the relaxed pace and easy-going nature of the area is very appealing (especially compared to the everyday hustle that I am accustomed to in New Jersey and New York). Simply walking around the French Quarter or listening to the sounds of jazz all around you is a haven for your senses. Relaxing on the beaches near the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi or other parts of Mississippi or Alabama is a surefire way to shut off the rest of the world or daily life.
For all of these reasons, I do recommend that everyone visits the region at least once.
Of course, there’s also the local fare and cuisine, which tops my list of reasons to visit any of the places mentioned in this article.
Recently, I had the chance to visit Biloxi, Mississippi and other cities in the surrounding area on a brief work trip. Although it had been over a year since I had last visited the Gulf Coast, the memory every Creole dish, every jambalaya or andouille sausage, and every piece of fried alligator was still fresh in my mind. During the entire charter flight from Philadelphia, I could not stop my mind from wandering off from time to time as it ventured into places filled with culinary delights. It was only natural, considering my dream breakfast consists of beignets, bacon, coffee, juices, and other accompaniments that either sizzle on the plate or sweeten the experience. In fact, my philosophy has always been to enjoy food in order to enjoy life.
My cardiologist may have been secretly shaking his head (*I don’t actually have a cardiologist yet), but my taste buds would most certainly adore me.
Before I begin my actual report and review, I should first state that the food sampled on this trip was nothing out of the ordinary, extreme, or things that you cannot find in many restaurants around the world.
However, just because chicken will taste like chicken everywhere, your favorite chicken will never taste like other chicken anywhere.
I should also point out that there is something about travel that brings forth feelings of adventure, excitement, and the unknown. Even if you have been to a place one-thousand times before, each time you venture out and leave your home you are doing something different, something new. For this reason, I always believe that the food, culture, people, and environment around you will affect your senses in invigorating and exciting ways while traveling, regardless of what how mundane the dishes or locales may seem on paper.
If you read my previous trip report about the trains from New Jersey to Philadelphia International Airport, you know that the travel day leading up to my charter flight was extremely busy. I had only slept for two hours the night before I departed and the entire day at the airport was filled with work and meetings. For whatever reason, my flight to Biloxi was also delayed for a few hours, so by the time I landed, took the shuttle to my hotel (the Beau Rivage, a beautiful hotel), checked in, and got up to my room, I had been up for nearly twenty-four hours straight.
Thus, the first night of my trip was much of a blur, concluding with my head hitting the pillow at some unknown, ungodly hour only to be awake six hours later to start the business affairs of the following day.
When I awoke in the morning, I discovered that one of my meetings had been moved forward by a few hours. Because of this, I did not have time to properly shower, shave, dress, and eat brunch at the Terrace Cafe (Beau Rivage’s casual restaurant located outside of the casino zone) in the hotel lobby without being late. In a mad dash to look over the room service menu, I noted the chicken pot pie on the specialty items list and began to wonder if I could stomach such a heavy meal right after waking up. Guessing that it would take around thirty minutes to be delivered, I decided that by the time I showered and got dressed, my body would be “awake” enough to handle the creamy chicken dish and pie crust. I picked up the phone, dialed the room service number, and was informed that the food would be up to my room in around twenty minutes.
I had just finished dressing myself when I heard the knock at the door signaling that my food had arrived. The server who delivered my meal was exceptional, as was the rest of the staff at the Beau Rivage (a more complete review of the property will be posted here at a later date).
As I did not have too much time before I needed to head downstairs for the first meeting of the day, I quickly grabbed the utensils in front of me and dove right into the pie crust. Good pie crust is apparently very tricky to make (or so I’ve heard), so when a chef gets it right, I am always impressed.
Everything about this particular pot pie was exceptional, which is why I suppose the property lists it on its specialty menu. The aforementioned pie crust was flaky and delicious, the chicken was cooked to perfection and still moist, the creamy sauce and filling was warm and had exceptional flavor, and the vegetables were also fresh and had great texture. If I was not in such a rush that morning, I would have probably taken more time to savor the meal. However, meetings and work obligations were beckoning and I needed to finish as quickly as possible.
I am glad that my morning room service plan worked out because I did not get a chance to eat again until that evening. By that time, I was both very tired (the effects from the day before were still wearing on me) and very hungry. Not wanting to go back upstairs to dress formally, I decided on visiting the Terrace Cafe for dinner.
Again, by random luck and chance, this decision proved to be a very good one. Not only did they have a professional and attentive wait staff, but their menu included some other interesting items that I wished to try. They also had sweet tea, which is something that I must also enjoy while in the South.
The highlight of the meal, however, was the crab cake appetizer.
Crab cakes are a dish that is hard to get just right. The crab meat has to be fresh. The seasoning has to be perfect. A chef must balance the right amount of stuffing and other ingredients. The sauce must be flavorful but not overpowering. Everything must be cooked and seared to the right temperature without burning the outside of each cake.
The crab cakes on this evening were exceptional, and contained all of the elements listed above.
In fact, I could have ordered four crab cakes as an entire meal and been a very satisfied eater.
The main course of this meal was actually the special for the day, fried pork chops. Although anyone can make pork chops, Southern fried pork chops are an entire different dish altogether. In fact, fried-anything in the South is an entirely different culinary experience altogether. These particular pork chops were prepared well, as the batter was surprisingly tasty and the meat was thoroughly cooked but still moist.
Also included with the pork chops were sides consisting of macaroni and cheese and green beans. The macaroni and cheese was good but nothing to write home about. The green beans had great texture but they were very heavily salted and thus somewhat difficult to eat or finish. Everything went down fine, however, when washed away with more sweet tea.
Of course, the crab cakes were still my favorite part of the meal. As satisfying as the pork chops were, the crab cakes were simply spectacular.
After finishing my pork chops, I was starting to feel the effects of all the travel and work from the previous two days. Thus, instead of having dessert at the restaurant, I decided to take a walk around the resort before calling it a day. Naturally, I spotted an ice cream store on my way back to my room and it became all-too-clear to me that I was destined to acquire and consume an ice cream sundae before I retired for the evening. Vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry completed the guilty pleasure and oddly, for whatever reason, I did not feel all that guilty about the entire process.
The sundae was great, and it felt even better knowing that I could eat it while watching the sun set over the gulf from the window in my room. As tired as I was, I was also relieved to finally be settled in for the next few days. Work would still require much of my time and attention over the next week, but at least I was back on the road and back in a place that I loved to visit. After all, that’s what takes the edge off of any work assignment.
Sunset, a great meal, and a sweet dessert. Not a bad way to end a long day.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of my trip to the Gulf Coast, more food photos and reports, and a review of the journey back home on the Amtrak Acela Express in first class!