The news on July 31, 2014, was not good for fans of Old Cuevas Bistro in Pass Christian. The restaurant, housed in a circa-1851 building on a particularly pretty stretch of Menge Avenue, had burned to the ground. The eatery's atmosphere and food had combined for an experience treasured by many Coastians, and the loss was a shock to them.
The building was lost but not the restaurant. Owner Cassandra Timmons moved it to Bay St. Louis, and in December, Old Cuevas Bistro opened at its new location at 111 Main St., almost at the corner of Main and Beach Boulevard. It's in an older building -- perhaps not as memorable as the historic Pass grocery store and filling station, but still with its own character.
I went on a recent sunny but cool weekday for lunch, arriving just after 1 p.m. I had scanned a menu prior to my arrival and thought I wanted the Blue Corn Chicken ($15.95) but when I heard the day's special, I changed my mind. It was blackened salmon topped with grilled shrimp and a lemon pesto sauce, served with grilled asparagus and a side salad ($18.95). For my salad dressing, I chose the restaurant's own maple shallot vinaigrette (I later learned all the dressings are made in house).
As I settled back to wait for my order, I noticed the nearby bar and its beautiful, obviously aged wood. I made a mental note to ask if its boards were survivors of the fire.
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My salad arrived first, and I tasted the dressing, presented on the side. It was slightly but not overly sweet, and the flavor of the shallots really came through. It was a light, delicious addition to the salad, and I saved about half of it to try with the salmon (it was a good match).
I truly could eat salmon just about every day and never grow tired of it. This dish reinforced that belief. The blackened salmon was moist but not oily, the shrimp were large and plump, and the lemon pesto sauce got a smooth finish from a bit of cream added to it. The asparagus retained just enough firmness and had that satisfying grilled flavor.
As you enter Old Cuevas, you pass an alluring and distracting display of fresh desserts. My server reminded me they were available but my meal had been quite filling, so I reluctantly passed. The coolers with the dessert display also hold chicken salad and Boar's Head meats and cheeses for easy deli purchase at the counter. The front room also offers a variety of gourmet packaged items, appealing to residents as well as weekend visitors, Timmons said.
Manager Joseph Schuman confirmed the bar was built from floor joists out of the old burned building. The bar also features a post from the old location that survived the fire.
Old Cuevas in the Bay opened Dec. 14 and added lunch around the first of the year. It turns out the Blue Corn Chicken is one of the most popular items.
"And we do fresh fish," Schuman said. "The fish we have depends on what's fresh."