As a bonus felid for this weekend, I present a denizen of Darwell’s Cafe, a Long Beach, Mississippi, eatery that we’ve had occasion to note favorably before here at WEIT. While in Mississippi last week, we had dinner there, and met this fellow (a culinary report will follow).
He occupied a seat at one of the outdoor tables, and as the place filled, and diners checked out his table, he looked at them disdainfully, and would not yield his seat. The singer/guitarist in the trio playing that night noted this, and announced that he was, “the most unconcerned cat on the Coast.” (“The Coast” being what this area along the Gulf of Mexico is known as.)
There are some interesting comments on live oaks, their distribution, and resistance to hurricanes in the discussion (see #5) of my post on Long Beach, MS and its cuisine. One thing I’ve noticed is the striking zonation of the vegetation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Just a few miles inland, the live oak forest along the coast gives way to a forest strongly dominated by pine. Here’s a pine forest, less than two miles north of the water.
This pine forest continues considerably far inland, becoming mixed with broadleaved deciduous trees around Hattiesburg.
The live oaks dominate in a narrow strip along the coast.
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.
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.
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.