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Born and bread: Want a taste of the Coast? Try home-grown restaurants

Mississippi Gulf Coast restaurateurs will win your heart and your taste buds. It’s well-known that the stomach rules the heart. From down-home cookin’ at Daddy’s Little Kitchen in Gulfport to elegant French fare at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, awesome local cuisine rules.

There’s nothing wrong with corporate cookery for a quick meal, but you haven’t lived until you’ve sampled top-quality steaks prepared by owner-chef Bill Vrazel at Vrazel’s on Beach Boulevard in Gulfport. He’s been there since 1986 and, like most coastal food entrepreneurs, he isn’t going anywhere else, anytime soon.

Vrazel’s cuisine is fine dining featuring regional Creole, French and Italian. At Tug’s Wharf, you can enjoy seafood while taking in a nice view of the bayou. Another restaurant with a front seat on the bayou is The Blow Fly Inn with steaks, pasta and American dishes, delicately trimmed with life size horseflies!

Still another new restaurant overlooking the Coast’s inland waters is The Dock is located on Seaway Road in Gulfport, which offers tons of seafood and live music.

Lil’ Ray’s has picnic table style po’boys and local fish to die for, with all the sides. Mary Mahoney’s Flounder Imperial is gastronomic delight.

Catfish Charlie, another family enterprise and a coastal fixture, serves all-you-care-to-eat local catfish, shrimp and chicken, family style with rough-hewn décor and personalized service. Up and down our Coast, you’ll enjoy sushi, fusion cuisine, tapas, and everything in between at one-of-a-kind restaurants.

Why don’t these folks expand, open branches and spread out? Some do. A favorite barbecue and blues joint, The Shed, Ocean Springs brain child of the Orrison family, is launching its first franchise location in Lyman in June. And, by the way, The Shed has just recently won two first-place prizes in the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Competition. And it was the only participant of the 380 entrants to win first place in two categories.

Vrazel has an interesting take on why some concentrate on one perfect jewel of an eatery.

“The owner-chef is present, his full attention is on that restaurant,” he says. “Personality is part of who we are. You know this is Bill’s place — a family member watches over it. There’s a sense of consistency; I get a chance to have a life in my community and enjoy my family while still keeping quality for my guests.”

Gulf Coast restaurants have a nouveau feeling — fresh menus and special dishes. But there’s deeply established quality grounded here. These entrepreneurial families perfect their art for generations. They’ve outlasted hurricanes, economic fluctuations and incredible cultural growth and change.

Orrison explains, “We want hospitality to be a key feature — wave at people when they walk by; ask about the family. It should be down home all the way.”

Yep, down home, even if the cuisine is haute or the menu gourmet. It’s people who make your travel experience a pleasure and quality that makes your meal delightful. Hotel concierge staff will happily direct you to your heart’s desire.

These are only a few of the Coast’s home-grown eateries; there are plenty more. So, look around and settle down to a culinary experience you can’t get anywhere else.