I could swear that trip from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis didn’t take as long as it usually does. It probably was because I was anticipating my lunch.
Once not so long ago, there was a restaurant in downtown Gulfport called Corks & Cleaver. Now, the executive chef, David Dickensauge, has opened his own restaurant in the Bay with the tweaked name C&C Italian Bistro.
Here, in the old, character-filled building that until recently housed Old Cuevas Bistro, pasta, upscale pizzas, sandwiches and entrees reign. The restaurant is casual enough for vacationers to slide into a booth in shorts but nice enough for date night or lunch with a client.
I was delighted to be seated in the corner booth, which reminded me of the old Flip Wilson-as-Geraldine line “In the booth, in the back, in the corner, in the dark.” It’s not dark, but it does offer a good view of the whole dining area.
On the way over, I had been debating. Do I get the house-made pasta? Or do I get a hand-tossed pizza specially made for me in the custom-built Marra Forni oven? Hmm. I decided I would get pasta for my lunch, and order a pizza, have one slice with my lunch and take the rest home.
For the pasta, I chose Mezzaluna ($12), a rich-sounding combo of ricotta di bufala and chestnut ravioli, brown butter and sage. It was up against Rigatoni ($14), wild mushroom sugo and rosemary, and the deceptively simple description Spaghetti ($14), whole wheat pasta, pesto cetarese, crab meat and spicy mollica.
The pizza choice was even tougher. I mean, Steak Gruyere ($16), grilled filet mignon, gruyere cheese, horseradish cream, truffle oil and micro arugula? Proscuitto, Fig & Bacon ($14), with combozola bleu cheese cream and caramelized onions? Scottish Smoked Salmon ($12), red onions, capers and dill mascarpone? Louisiana Crawfish ($14), with ricotta and bulb onion? I decided to go simple and veggie-centric with Primavera ($10), featuring olives, feta, marjoram, bulb onion and marinara. Everything would wash down with sweet tea.
My tea arrived more quickly than I think any drink has ever arrived for me. Whatever you might expect from an Italian restaurant, this was some of the best sweet tea I’ve ever had. I believe somebody’s Southern mama was in the kitchen making it. I can’t prove it; it’s just a theory.
My server, Taylor, had done an excellent job of taking my order. Assuming (correctly) that I was on my lunch break and (I let her believe this) that I was taking the pizza back to the office for a coworker, she had put the pizza order in a bit after my pasta order.
As I watched a young man tossing pizza dough in the air by the red tile-covered Forni oven, I asked Taylor if he was making my pizza. It turned out he was, so I watched as he added my toppings, put the pie’s tin on a wooden paddle and gently shoved the tin onto a slowly rotating track inside the oven. Zae Morris, my pizza guy, said the pizza cooks in one rotation, at 800 degrees for 1 minute and 20 seconds.
Now for my pasta, which came with lightly grilled Italian bread and whipped garlicky herbed butter. The plump half-moons of pasta were beautifully full of ricotta. The chestnut and brown butter added the richness and reminded me fall is on the way, as did the whole leaf fresh sage. The dish gets bright highlights from lemon zest, I later learned from Dickensauge. Yum.
C&C’s pizzas are considered personal sized, but I got two solid meals out of mine as well as the sample slice at lunch. The crust is elastic and yeasty, the toppings are fresh and flavorful. Feta is a great cheese choice for pizza; it adds tang and that milky cheesy thing without the stringiness of mozzarella.
Unexpected fish and meat dishes available at lunch include Brodetto ($16), an Adriatic-style seafood soup of shrimp, fish, clams, mussels and scallops; Pollo al Mattone ($14), brick oven-roasted half chicken with porcini, gnocchi, puntarella and chicken jus, and Braciola di Maiale, ($12), a Tuscan brick oven-roasted Hampshire pork chop with cipollono onion agrodolce.
Yes, that pork chop gets the brick oven treatment, too, as well as ribeyes, Dickensauge said. He added that he plans to adjust the menu slightly four times a year, suggesting a seasonal bent.
It was a thoroughly satisfying meal and atmosphere. I smiled as I overheard a man at a neighboring table talking with his server. The server laughed and said, like anyone with ties to nearby New Orleans, “Yes, sir, we do have good groceries.”
C&C Italian Bistro
Where: 111 Main St., Bay St. Louis
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday