Raoul Vappie sat on a barstool, a to-go cup of coffee in his hand and a long braid trailing from his Saints cap.
A couple of his customers sat around him, and Kenny Ray, all tattooed up, stood behind the polished bar.
Cigarette smoke drifted throughout the room, an ice machine hummed in a corner and just enough sun made it through the tinted front windows to cast everything in a cool light.
It was early on a weekday afternoon, and Third Base was stirring to life. When I walked in with a camera bag and a button-up shirt, all four people in the bar stopped and looked at me.
“What are you selling?” Kenny Ray said.
I told him my neighbor had recommended Third Base’s food and I was there to try it. Vappie, the head chef and manager of the bar, introduced himself from his barstool.
What’s your pleasure?
“Do you eat bacon?”
“Do you eat jalapenos?”
“Do you eat chili?”
“Then you should try the Grand Slam burger.”
Vappie put the order in. One of the other customers began talking about how big the Grand Slam was. Vappie started telling her about a customer who had come in a few days earlier and ordered a Grand Slam on poboy bread. The customer could eat only half of it.
I found a spot off to the side. Vappie joined me and began telling me about Third Base. The bar and grill has been operating in its spot off U.S. 90 for years.
“This is a dive bar,” he said. “My prices and my food are for the local people.”
It did seem that way — each time a new customer came in the front doors, Vappie called them by name, asked them if they wanted their usual orders.
Vappie’s prices do seem lower than a lot of the other restaurants in the area. Daily lunch specials are $6.95, and on Mondays a burger and onion rings is $7.25.
How it rolls
Vappie disappeared into the kitchen, then walked back out with my plate.
“This is how I roll,” he said, setting the plate in front of me.
It was a lot of food. The burger came open-faced, the lower half covered with chili, cheese and jalapenos.
I decided I would have to eat it with a fork. Then, I put the two halves together — somehow it didn’t fall apart. I cut it down the middle, and an inch-thick beef patty, which had to that point been covered completely in chili, was revealed.
All the toppings on the burger — pickles, jalapenos, chili, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayonnaise — ensured it had aggressive flavors and textures.
My favorite part, though, was the charred beef patty. Crunchy bits of blackened beef helped the patty to stand out amid all those toppings.
Vappie told me he has a 4-foot-by-4-foot charbroiler in the kitchen to cook the burgers.
The onion rings were thick-cut, with a crunchy outside and a soft, sweet middle. The batter clung to the onions not too tightly, and not too loosely.
Vappie sat back down. He took out his phone and started showing me pictures he had taken of his daily lunch specials.
He regularly makes red beans and rice, fried chicken, smothered cabbage, pork chops, smoked sausage, and other Southern dishes.
He grew up in New Orleans, and his grandma’s cooking serves as the foundation for his culinary interests.
“I always loved the way the house smelled when my grandma was cooking,” he said. “It drove me nuts.”
He has had other influences in his career. A Cuban friend, Jose, taught him about his culture’s food.
A Minnesotan he cooked with at a casino in Bay St. Louis taught him how they cook up north. He said he sticks with Southern and New Orleans cuisine mostly, though.
Vappie showed me a picture of the Grand Slam po-boy. It looked like three hamburgers lined up and covered with chili.
Third Base’s lunch specials change by the day. Vappie said he waits until the morning he’s going to cook to decide what he wants to make. The price is always the same, though — $6.95.
The bar keeps long hours. It is closed for only six and a half hours most days, opening at 10:30 a.m. and shutting down at 4 a.m. It caters to different crowds at different times, changing from a sleepy lunch spot during the day to a happening club at night. Sometimes it hosts local rap shows (Vappie said one of his cooks is a very good rapper).
Vappie said anyone who walked into his bar alone would leave with a friend, and I believe in many cases that friend might be the chef himself.
Third Base Bar and Grill
Where: 809 U.S. 90, Bay St. Louis
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-4 a.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-4 a.m. weekends