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.
Long Beach’s redevelopment has focused on its downtown, a few blocks from the beach. Restaurants are among the prominent features.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I had the Crawfish Monica, pasta with lots of crawfish, and a delicious, chocolatey Jefferson Stout, from Mississippi’s own Lazy Magnolia brewery.
And for dessert, a fine selection of cakes.
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.