When Thomas Genin first started in the restaurant business on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he had numerous friends and customers who owned Gulf-side camps and houses. Katrina changed all that when the hurricane slammed into the coast in 2005.
“The entire western part of Pass Christian and the houses in Bay St. Louis were destroyed in Katrina,” says Genin, who owns The Blind Tiger restaurant in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. “Since Katrina, if I’ve heard one I’ve heard 1,000 people asking, ‘Where’s a cool place to stay?’”
Building a home along the Mississippi Gulf Coast requires a foundation 20 feet off the ground in case of storm flooding, Genin explains, plus high insurance costs due to occasional hurricanes. He insists tourists want accommodations, not second homes, these days.
Hotel Whiskey & Whiskey Prime
Which is why Genin and business partner Travis March opened Hotel Whiskey (HotelWhiskey.biz) in historic downtown Pass Christian, the first hotel to open in the area since the 1920s. The two-story, 11-room boutique hotel, which includes a 1,000-square-foot master suite, overlooks Davis Street and offers easy access to the new Pass Christian Harbor. On the ground floor, the Whiskey Prime restaurant features USDA prime steaks and seafood nightly, with lunch on weekends along with an elegant bar serving up a wide variety of fine wines and whiskeys.
Dishes include a jumbo lump crabmeat martini with red onions and a caper mayonnaise for starters and a bacon-wrapped filet mignon with a side of white truffle garlic fries. Lunch may include a USDA Prime ground steak burger and house-made fries or seared yellow fin tuna on a seaweed salad, complemented by poblano-brie cornbread.
“The restaurant has been a pleasant surprise,” Genin says. “We’ve stayed pretty full since we opened.”
Everything begins at the first-floor restaurant, including checking in.
“The hotel lobby is the bar,” Genin says. “We treat you to a cocktail, then walk you to your room, get you a bucket of ice.”
Genin and March were enjoying whiskey the night they discussed opening a hotel, hence the name.
“Whiskey was probably part of the final decision,” he says, adding that it might have fueled the process as well. “We didn’t hesitate from the day we started to the day we opened.”
So far, the response has been favorable and holiday weekends booked up for months, he said. One attraction is the lack of a minimum stay requirement. Visitors may reserve one night or 20, Genin says, which makes it ideal for a weekend getaway or for those who wish to sample several accommodations along the coast, one night at a time.
Hotel Whiskey also offers charter fishing boat referrals upon request.
Eugenia Uhl photos
The Henderson Beach Resort
Another newly opened coastal hotel is The Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, Florida (HendersonBeachResort.com), with its 170 guest rooms and suites, meeting space, luxury spa, pools and various dining options. Designed like an elegant Southern hotel of years past, visitors enter the “Living Room,” an expansive lobby filled with comfortable chairs and sofas opening to a porch that overlooks neighboring Henderson Beach State Park. Here, even the floors have been designed to transport visitors back in time with modern wooden planks built with enough give to occasionally creak, says public relations manager Zandra Wolfgram.
Colors match the emerald waters and live oak canopies outside, accented by reclaimed beams and trusses, high ceilings and a large collection of artwork – 465 pieces total – by 13 local artists. Gulf and park views exist almost everywhere, from the Horizons octagonal-shaped bar with its cozy fireplace to the sunrise and sunset decks.
A special experience is the nightly sunset salutation, where a staff member dressed as a boat captain rings a bell to the four compass points. A specialty cocktail goes well with the ceremony, such as the Lavender Bubbles, a mix of lavender simple syrup, La Marca Prosecco Italian sparkling wine and Miraval Rose.
The property includes two pools, one for adults that’s heated with a hot tub attached and one for families, with a handy barricade in between. There is extreme pampering in the Salamander Spa, which boasts of breathtaking glass art by Destin artist Mary Hong, 11 treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
Dining options include Primrose, helmed by chef Michael Katz, and seasonal restaurants at the Sea Level Poolside Bar & Grill, sandwiches on the west lawn and the Beach Club Bar on the Gulf’s edge. Children will adore Sprinkles Ice Cream Shop and adults will want to tag along for the fresh gelato.
Beach service, bike rentals, water sports and children’s activities are also offered during warm weather months.
What makes the Henderson a step above is the attention to detail and excellent customer service. Soaker tubs, upscale bath products, specialty coffee makers and fine food and spirits greet visitors in guest rooms. Valet service offers advice while retrieving cars. Spa visits begin with a relaxing ceremony and end with decadent water treatments. Pets are welcome as well.
The resort is owned by Dunavant Enterprises, a family business out of Memphis that also owns and operates the Gulf-side Henderson Park Inn next door, an adult-only property known for its personal attention to customers. Salamander Hotels & Resorts manages both hotels, a company founded by Sheila C. Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET). Visitors to both accommodations may access the pristine beaches fronting the 200-acre Henderson Beach State Park.
The Henderson is located at 200 Henderson Resort Way in Destin, a short drive from Destin Commons.
Chase Yakaboski photo
Hotels aren’t the only things popping up along the Gulf Coast these days; the food scene continues to evolve and grow as well.
The Other End Restaurant & Beer Garden
More than 16 beer taps accent the burgers and duck fries at The Other End Restaurant and Beer Garden in Destin, Florida, (OtherEnd.net) an Airstream food truck surrounded by picnic tables that’s a favorite with locals, if you can find it.
The Craft Bar
The Craft Bar gastropub (TheCraftBarFL.com) with several Florida Panhandle locations, however, wins the keg for the most brews on tap, this in addition to growlers for those who want their beer to-go.
Patio 44 of Hattiesburg, Mississippi (PatioFortyFour.com) has opened its second location in Biloxi, serving up local favorites such as shrimp and grits and blackened redfish, with most ingredients sourced within miles of the restaurant. The new location was already creating waves, no pun intended, when it made the Mississippi List: 201 Places to Eat, Stay & Play in 2017.
Savory Restaurant Group
Christopher Ruyan and Tyler Jarvis of the Savory Restaurant Group, co-founders of the award-winning sister restaurants Jackacudas Seafood & Sushi (Jackacudas.com) and Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer (Brotulas.com) of Destin, will reinvent chef Tim Creehan’s Cuvee Destin into Cuvee Kitchen + Wine Bar (CuveeDestin.com) this spring. Creehan recently sold his patented Grill Plus Instant Marinade to Kinder’s, a California-based organic sauce company, and will be spending his time working with product development and operations management at the company’s new southeastern division.
Cuvee Kitchen + Wine Bar
Cuvee Kitchen + Wine Bar, to be located on the Emerald Coast Parkway in Destin, will feature a seasonal menu focusing on local seafood, farm fresh ingredients and premium cuts, plus craft cocktails and a wine list.
Fairhope Roasting Company
Located in back of Warehouse Bakery is the locally owned Fairhope Roasting Company (FairhopeRoasting.com), known for its variety of freshly roasted coffees and a knock-your-socks-off cold brew coffee concentrate. The combination of heavenly baked goods and an excellent cup of joe make this a fun stop on a trip to Fairhope or passing through to Gulf Shores.
The Grand Marlin Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Several new restaurants join the culinary scene of Panama City, including The Grand Marlin Restaurant and Oyster Bar (TheGrandMarlin.com), located at the Lighthouse Marina on Grand Lagoon. The restaurant, which also has a location in Pensacola Beach, is known for its fresh Gulf seafood and oysters hailing from Apalachicola and East Bay.
Top Left, Grilled Caribbean lobster tails. Top Right, Rubbed salmon
In addition to Whiskey Prime in Pass Christian, Genin opened a second Blind Tiger (TheBlindTiger.biz) location in Harrah’s Gulf Coast Hotel and Casino of Biloxi, with its third location scheduled to open in Lakeshore Marina and Yacht Harbor of Slidell this spring.
Fish tacos and a Mississippi beer
Cheré Coen photo
Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant
Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant in Seaside, Florida (BudAndAlleys.com) turned 30 in 2016, with exciting plans for second floor expansion this year. The popular roof deck that’s a hit at sunset will expand its square footage, install an elevator for easy access and include bathrooms. Other changes to the restaurant include combining the taco and pizza bars, says owner Dave Rauschkolb.
Warehouse Bakery & Donuts
Do not let the name fool you. Warehouse Bakery & Donuts in Fairhope, Alabama, (WarehouseBakeryAndDonuts.com) may cook up sweet baked delights, but they also offer breakfast bowls, sandwiches on house-made breads and a pimento cheese BLT. Jennifer Haffner comes to Fairhope from time spent at Jesse’s Restaurant in Magnolia Springs, among others, offering menu items that have become an instant hit. The Squeelin’ Pig breakfast biscuit, for instance, combines small-batch bacon or sausage, a fried egg, cheese and a spicy mayonnaise.
Biloxi Brewing Company
Biloxi Brewing Company (BiloxiBrewing.com) opened in downtown Biloxi, joining Mississippi breweries Chandeleur in Gulfport and Lazy Magnolia in Kiln. Destin Brewery, located on Mountain Drive (DestinBrewery.com), pours flagship, seasonal and experimental brews, and opens its establishment for tastings on weekends.
Roselie Dining & Seafood Bar
Chef Kevin Korman, with experience at Ritz-Carlton Lodge Reynolds Plantation of Georgia, opened Roselie Dining & Seafood Bar (RoselieDining.com) last summer on Highway 30A in Inlet Beach, Florida. The 90-seat restaurant – a combination of the names of Korman’s daughters, Rosalyn and Eleanor – focuses on modern American cuisine, primarily sustainable Gulf seafood and farm-to-fork entrées.
Left, Cavatelli and braised duck with rapini, sweet potato, ricotta and pistachio. Middle, Yellowfin tuna with avocado, pickled peppers, barrel aged soy and crisp quinoa. Right, Sweet corn cake with blueberries, vanilla bean ice cream, streusel and corn caramel.
Rail service from Los Angeles to Jacksonville was available on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, but Hurricane Katrina disrupted the New Orleans to Florida route. Talks are currently in the works to bring back a daily round-trip train ride from New Orleans to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Mobile. Future lines may include Jacksonville,and Orlando through a connecting train line.
Last fall, the City of Gulfport turned a back alley into a creative pedestrian walkway. Fishbone Alley backs up to several restaurants and bars in the downtown Gulfport entertainment district, but what used to be a place for dumpsters and trash is now full of whimsical artwork, vertical urban landscaping, reclaimed brick pavers and overhead lighting.
Eugenia Uhl photo
Digital Graffiti (DigitalGraffiti.com) celebrates 10 years this May, a color explosion by underground artists in the coastal town of Alys Beach, Florida, which consists of nothing but white homes and buildings. Artists of all kinds submit artwork to be projected on walls of beach residences for three nights in May, everything from maps and photographs to animation and experimental short films. This year’s Digital Graffiti will be May 19-21.
Panama City Beach Conservation Park
Sixty-eight acres of new wildlife habitat for gopher tortoises have been added to the Panama City Beach Conservation Park. The species of tortoises has been classified “threatened” and the Conservation Park is one of only two locations in Florida permitted to take in these “waif tortoises” or tortoises whose original sites aren’t known.