Dining Across the Gulf Coast
Chicken Osso Bucco, Restaurant Paradis, Rosemary Beach, Florida
Photograph by Tommy Crow
It is true. You can look it up.
There simply is not a stretch of America that cuts through four states, abutting large bodies of fresh and salt water, where the food is as good and indigenous as ours, right along our Gulf Coast.
Of course other places in the nation have pockets of culinary pleasures, but you can’t put your finger on a map boasting so big an area as the Gulf Coast with such an abundant bounty of riches from the land and the sea.
It’s a blessing that we don’t take for granted. In fact, we celebrate the whole ordeal: the ingredients, the preparation, the pleasure of simply enjoying what we have done, and the sharing part, with family and friends along with lively conversation.
Then again, there are times when heading out to a favorite restaurant is the correct answer to “What’s for dinner?”
Plentiful are the places and people who not only know what we like to eat, but also how we like to eat, and they are located in just about every square mile of our Gulf Coast region. Here’s some you may know, and likely a few others you should try.
3809 Johnston St.
A Mexican restaurant in the capital of Acadiana may seem incongruous with the culture known for its signature Cajun cuisine. But after enjoying a fine margarita and some excellent Tex-Mex fare, you’ll realize this place makes all the sense in the world. Founded in 1957, La Fonda has been the scene of countless celebrations and business deals in this petroleum-driven town. The local Cajun population knows that life is not all about boiled crawfish and boudin – sometimes you need an excellent enchilada, too.
Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
507 W. Pinhook Road
The ever-popular Cajun musical standard, “Jolie Blonde,” was the subject of a 1974 painting by world-renowned artist and Acadiana native son, the late George Rodrigue, known for his Blue Dog canvases. Rodrigue’s two sons, Andre and Jacques, along with Steve and Suzi Santillo, offer guests a culinary bridge between the Cajun and Creole cultures. The comfortable surroundings are the perfect setting to show off Louisiana cultures and homegrown ingredients from the land and sea. George Rodrigue’s joie de vivre lives on at Jolie’s.
11025 N. Harrells Ferry Road
You expect a town named Baton Rouge to have more of a French influence. Maison Lacour can bring you to that appreciation. Combining the cuisine styles of Paris and Southern France, even the décor of the cozy restaurant, in a park setting, transports you to the European country of Louisiana’s birth. Chef Michael Jetty apprenticed here under chef and owner Jacqueline Greaud. Jetty was so in love with the restaurant and Chef Greaud’s daughter, Eva, that he pledged his troth to both. It’s a romantic European story, laden with fine food, and it’s a story of Louisiana love.
Mansurs on the Boulevard
5720 Corporate Blvd.
Since 1989, Mansurs on the Boulevard has been a centerpiece of Capital City life. The energetic bar scene buzzes with talk of politics, oil, shipping and entertainment possibilities to come. The elegant dining room features Creole specialties that locals and natives have come to discover or enjoy again. The nightly piano accompaniment, classical or jazz, completes the picture of Southern dining at its very best.
Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli
5215 Plank Road
You are probably going to have to wait in line, and you can’t dine here. But with seafood like this, all of that is just fine. Since 1959, Tony Pizzolato, native of just down the road Donaldsonville, decided to open up a produce stand and wholesale business, then added some seafood items to serve requests. Soon the seafood was the deal so the produce went away. Now his crabs, oysters, drum, redfish, and catfish, all fresh or prepared in proper Cajun fashion are the hit of the town. Oh, add in an order of boudin balls. You can eat those in the car going home. Resistance is futile.
107 3rd St.
Executive chefs Brad Andries and Mark Reilly call their approach, “upscale Down South dining,” and it works. A centerpiece of the renaissance of downtown Baton Rouge, and just steps from the historic Old State Capital, Stroube’s creatively but comfortably offers dishes based in lamb, calamari, frog legs, shrimp, escargot, oysters, duck, andouille, ribs, steak, pasta and more.
Lookout Steakhouse and Seafood
1301 26th Ave.
The place is historically stunning. Built as a bank in 1903, the restaurant has been converted tastefully and respectfully. The bar is impressive, and the mezzanine seating area looks over the kitchen and downstairs dining area. Rooms upstairs offer views of Gulfport Harbor on the Gulf. As you would expect in a waterside community restaurant, the seafood is done well. The steaks are the deal, however. New York Strip, filet mignon, ribeye and center-cut sirloin will satisfy your carnivorous desires.
White Cap Seafood
560 E. Beach Blvd.
As you look out over the Gulf, know that what you are about to enjoy was not too long ago out there. There’s nothing pretentious here, just fine, fresh seafood prepared properly by people who have been doing it their whole lives. Grilled oysters here rival the quality of those in New Orleans, and shrimp are not to be overlooked. While there’s a bit of a chain restaurant feel, don’t let that stop you. Stick with the specials of the day fresh plucked from the Gulf. Prices are very reasonable.
The Hook Up
200 E. 8th St.
This is one of those “grand halls on stilts sitting by the marina” kinds of places that are so prevalent in waterside communities. The deck is a popular gathering spot, particularly during the sunset. The bar is a fun place to meet and greet, as well as get a decent and honest cocktail. The food is comforting, with the usual fried offerings and hamburgers. Point is: You can’t do fine dining on every occasion and sometimes dinner should be ultra-casual, along with meeting new friends and just, in general, passing a good time.
Five Sisters Blues Café
421 W. Belmont St.
The spirit of the Deep South lives in the food and the music, and in the hearts, of five sisters, who hail from Stanford, Kentucky. These Southern girls and their family took John Cougar Mellencamp’s words to heart, “vacationing at the Gulf of Mexico.” The café stays true to theme with andouille-crusted shrimp, a daily gumbo, seafood platters and a seafood basket. Yep, that’s the kind of food I want at the beach, not to mention the good music, which is worth mentioning.
4801 N. 9th Ave.
You may not go to Pensacola expecting a great pizza. Why not? The oven is a 4,000 pound, mostly brick, hardwood-fired, 500-degree monster. As for the marinara, it’s all house-made from the family’s recipe, a bit zesty, and the dough is made on-site.
6 N. Jackson St.
“Mediterrasian” is the made-up word describing this restaurant’s style of preparation and ingredients. Actually, the word works, and so does the place. Ingredients are sustainable and lighter, with less salt than other restaurants nearby. Quick frying, steaming or boiling are the preferred methods of cooking, and only when completed are delicate spices and seasonings added. Panko, Pekin and Thai influences exist side by side. Fine cocktail work is also present.
Kitchen on George
351A George St.
This is a lot like dining at home – but better. Surroundings are completely comfortable in Mobile’s Historic District. Much of the menu is available tapas-style, which allows for sharing many plates with your companions. The salmon brie salad is quite a treat, along with the local goat cheese salad. Heartier fare is available for diners desiring larger portions.
404 Harbor Blvd.
This is one of the old standards, and that’s saying something in Destin, where turnover of restaurants occurs with the tide. After a day of sitting in sand and slathering on sunscreen, nothing feels better than sitting at a candlelit dinner in a white-tablecloth ,fine-dining restaurant, overlooking beautiful Destin Harbor. The peppercorn rimmed Ahi tuna is a classic, and there’s an excellent wine list. Expect an attentive, knowledgeable, well-trained wait staff. The steaks, pork, lamb, and chicken are the best preparations in town.
538 Harbor Blvd.
Also located right on Destin Harbor, this (mostly) open-air, rustic establishment enjoys the warm but delightful breezes coming off the Gulf and the harbor. So what’s the specialty? Sushi, of course. They also feature whatever came in on the fishing boats that day so “fresh” is the deal, all the way around. It’s ultra casual in every way. Shorts and sneakers are de rigueur.
36120 Emerald Coast Parkway
What started as a retail wine shop attached to a restaurant has now morphed into a sports bar with a good wine selection. Chef Tim Creehan took over a few years ago and the change is noticeable. Upscale casual, by Destin’s standards, Creehan has sourced ingredients from the best spots, such as Tanglewood Farms, Hudson Valley, New Zealand and Maple Leaf Farms. Cuvee is infamous for their long Happy Hour, 5-9 p.m., with drink specials and flatbread accompaniments.
SEAGROVE BEACH, FLORIDA
3899 East Highway 30A
Go to the outdoor second floor bar to feel the evening breezes off the Gulf. Or just hunker down in the dining room bar downstairs. Either way, you can expect an excellent martini. The place looks like it should do a great martini, all white-painted wood and windows throughout, and you can rest assured of getting a good one. Old Florida is the style and even some of the dishes reflect that view, such as grilled Georgia quail on creamy grits. That’s a starter, believe it or not.
ROSEMARY BEACH, FLORIDA
82 South Barrett Square
Enjoying the wide veranda that surrounds the restaurant is a great day’s-end reward, sipping top-notch beverages or even dining al fresco. If you have had enough outside, the comfortable bar can make your favorite beverage, your way. Lots of wines accompany the ambitious preparations of grouper, tuna, shrimp, filet mignon and pork. If you are ready for a little atmosphere, you won’t do better along the entire coast.