Let's get this out of the way right now. Yes, you are going to pay top price for coffee at Renee's Fine Desserts & Coffee Bar in Gulfport, but this cup of coffee is unlike anything else you're likely to experience in these parts.
Go to Renee's website, and you'll see the java price range from $3.50 to $10.50. Before you balk or flip or swipe to another story, this isn't coffee poured from a vat with a dash of syrup out of a bottle. It's fascinating to watch the process, because each cup or glass of coffee is specially made, for you, as you order. That starts with grinding the beans, for you, as you order. This isn't a takeout place; instead, it's designed to give the patron an opportunity to take time to enjoy a repast.
I went for a late lunch last week. I knew I wanted to try one of the specialty coffees as well as have something filling for a meal. Renee's is in Courthouse Station on Courthouse Road; it's the attractive, small complex just north of the tracks on the east side of Courthouse. Two large tables, plus bar seating inside and a couple of outside tables provide plenty of places to enjoy your selection, although the space itself is relatively small. The atmosphere is French bistro and slightly old-time ice cream parlor, albeit a sophisticated one, with white-marble counters and beautiful light fixtures.
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I chose a cold brew Southern Frenchman ($8.50) as my beverage and debated between Renee's B.B. King ($18) or Oeufs Brouillés Sur du Pain ($14). The B.B. King is bread pudding served with thick-sliced applewood bacon, and Oeufs Brouillés Sur du Pain is French-style scrambled eggs served over two grilled French baguettes paired with tomato and green asparagus, all dressed in a French béchamel cream sauce. The oeufs were more in line with a lunch dish, but that sweet and salty tease of the B.B. King won me over.
Southern Frenchman is one of two signature brews at Renee's, both of which are available as v60, siphon or cold brew. This coffee drink (I got mine with milk) is infused with a generous supply of house-made salted caramel whiskey sauce and comes with a shot glass of water to cleanse the palate. For more straight-up coffee, there are single-origin options and French roast (v60 and cold brew also, plus siphon and French press), and teas and hot cocoa for the non-coffee drinker.
There's no paper or plastic cup with a plastic lid. Instead, the coffee arrives on a small wooden tray. If it's cold, it's served in an attractive clear glass. The hot version comes in specially made cups with "Matthew 28:19-20" ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -- NIV) inscribed in the rim. It's a verse that's important to owner Sharon Peterson, daughter Amber and son Colin, all of whom work in the cafe.
I watched as Colin Peterson crafted my iced drink. Various beakers, pots and other gadgets go into making each cup of coffee, and I won't try to explain it. It was part laboratory, part theater, all fascinating, and the aroma was heavenly. The drink itself? Smooth; no bitterness. The sweet caramel whiskey sauce wasn't too sweet, and it was the right blend of flavor and brew.
Hot sauce indeed
As the B.B. King arrived, Sharon Peterson cautioned me the Jack Daniel's whiskey sauce was just made and therefore very hot. Two squares of bread pudding and two thick pieces of bacon were accompanied by a shotglass of the sauce, which was steaming as the tray was placed before me.
This bread pudding is refined yet rich. Thinly crunchy around the top, creamy inside and buttery throughout; it has some raisins but is not overwhelmed by them. It melted in my mouth. The bacon was flavorful, free of superfluous fat and very satisfying. The pièce de résistance was the sauce. I poured a conservative amount over the bread pudding, then found myself sticking the fork into the shotglass and enjoying the sauce all by itself. I would have been happy to take a gallon home and eat it by the spoonful behind closed curtains.
Renee's moved to Courthouse Road from a location in downtown Gulfport that opened in 2013.
"All of our ingredients are organic, and everything is made here," Sharon Peterson said. The bacon comes from a vendor in Alabama, and coffee beans arrive from Chicago every two weeks.
The name Renee is an old family name, she said, including that of her father (Amber's name is Amber Renee). The Bay St. Louis native has named affogato al caffe, or coffee served with ice cream, after relatives, such as The Uncle Shelton, The Uncle Jr. and The Poppy. Black-and-white photos on the walls, in fact, are those of family members. Renee's also offers sucres, or sweets, such as meringues and macaroons.