Back in 2002, celebrity chef and Food Network star Rachael Ray challenged America. Armed with a budget of $40 a day, she set out to tour spots all over the United States and Europe, stretching two $20s to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. She wanted to prove eating cheaply didn’t mean eating only fast food.
Hey, if it’s good enough for Rachael, it’s good enough for me.
So I set out to try the $40 diet for myself in Biloxi. My goal was to dine on authentic Coast cuisine using only two Jacksons. It took some research and some driving around, but I managed to fill my belly without emptying my wallet.
I started off at In and Out Breakfast, a diner at 1711 Pass Road. It’s a tiny breakfast/lunch sandwich joint, famous for its Reuben and fast, friendly service. It’s cozy and old-fashioned, decorated with an eclectic collection of wall ornaments. There’s a drive-thru window, if you’re in a rush, but I made myself comfortable at one of the sturdy wooden tables inside.
It was breakfast time, so I went for the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, boldly opting for my extra side of hash browns to be inside the sandwich. I grabbed a cup of orange juice to wash it all down.
The meal came out to my little table fast and piping hot, looking almost like a breakfast burger. Steamy scrambled eggs spilled over the edges of the soft, fluffy bun, layered snugly with the fresh sausage, melted cheese and crispy hash browns. The meal came to $8.58 with tax; a pretty good value for the amount of food I was served. I was still stuffed at lunchtime, but duty called.
I decided lunch called for some true Coast flavor, so we headed to The Fillin’ Station at 692 Howard Avenue in Biloxi for seafood. Again, that famous hospitality greeted us the second we walked through the door, and a server took our drink orders as soon as we sat down. I opted for water this time, because it was a little humid and hydration is important. I was really in the mood for fish, so I decided on the seared tuna, served on a heaping bed of crispy wonton chips and drizzled with Asian ginger glaze.
My plate came piled high with wontons and thick, juicy strips of pink tuna. My tab was $13.91, leaving me more than enough for dinner. One of my companions was able to snag a sizeable tray of crawfish for $10.70, and another ordered the Crawfish and Pepper Piroux for only $12.84.
With my pockets still pretty padded, I decided to hit up a local suggestion for dinner: The Blind Tiger at 265 Beach Blvd. in Biloxi. I discovered the evening’s menu was stacked with delicious entrees well within my budget.
When we arrived about 6:30 p.m., there was already a 50-minute wait, so I sat at one of the outdoor bars, enjoying views of the harbor. Once seated, it took only one quick glance at the chalkboard menu for me to settle on the loaded cheese fries as my final meal of the day. I was tempted by the $9 cheddar burger, but felt that might be a little too similar to the breakfast sandwich I’d chowed down on earlier. I also briefly considered the mahi-mahi tacos ($13) or the Cantina Wings ($12) but the idea of dipping a forkful of loaded cheese fries, sprinkled with crispy bacon and fresh green onion, into a little cup of delicious ranch dressing was just too enticing. I could hardly finish the plate of golden, cheesy morsels.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner cost me $36.91, including tips. I had $3.09 left out of my $40 budget, but I also had a stomach so full of good Coast eating I could hardly move.
Not the Beau, but next best
I managed to taste only a small sample of the sprawling smorgasbord Coast dining has to offer, but I discovered that with a little online searching and some planning, it’s easy to find good food for prices that fit a tight budget.
Alas, no stuffed flounder at Mary Mahoney’s or prime rib at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.
The conclusion: For $40, you can’t always get what you want. But you can get what you need.
McKenna Wierman is part of a group of Ole Miss journalism students who spent a weekend on the Mississippi Coast reporting for the Sun Herald.