There is cookery and then there is magic.
The basics are easy — decent ingredients, seasonings, a good idea of what goes together and what doesn’t, a pot and fire. But to go from the basics to the rarefied air where chefs like David Dickensauge thrive is measured in light years, and magic.
1310 27th Ave. in Gulfport has housed several good eateries. It is a good location, in the heart of downtown and not far from the ever-busy U.S. 90. It has a second-story balcony, so the ceiling seems high, creating a pleasant open space. Dickensauge removed the wall separating the kitchen and restaurant, and added bar seating, so you can sit comfortably, but see the kitchen and feel the excitement that goes on there. I love it.
Chef Dickensauge has earned a reputation as an innovative chef and has owned several restaurants in Mississippi and Louisiana. The last was Cork & Cleaver in Bay St. Louis, which recently closed. The original Corks & Cleaver was next door to the current Gulfport spot, along with his former 27th Avenue Burger Bar.
Dickensauge told me when his lease agreement in Bay St. Louis ended, the restaurant on 27th Avenue in Gulfport came open. He has wanted to return to Gulfport, his hometown, and decided to make the move.
The restaurant is still farm-to-table, with locally sourced ingredients and a seasonal menu, but Dickensauge has brought on Chef Steven O’Neal as sous chef, and Lauren Joffrion as pastry chef, two great additions to his team. Dickensauge also said that the open kitchen and bistro style menu is a great fit for the changes he sees coming in Gulfport, changes he wants to be a part of.
I visited with artist friend Sarah Kling and we spent two hours giving this place a detailed going-over. Each plate was critically examined for composition, ingredients, textures and interesting pairings. If you want to wolf something down in a hurry, if you are not really interested in the finer arts, don’t bother with this Bistro. On the other hand, if you want a culinary adventure, if the details intrigue you, get in line, Chef Dickensauge is going to take you to school.
We started with a duck and rabbit gumbo ($12) that was rich and spicy, with a gorgeous, silky feel in the mouth. The combination was unique, the meats hearty, tender and filling. As good as it was, I wished I could have had it and the Duck and rabbit pho, a Vietnamese inspired dish, thick with rice noodles, which Dickensauge is famous for.
Next came a kale and Caesar chicken salad ($12) with chewy sundried tomatoes that contrasted with the crisp greens and red, ripe tomatoes. Tart capers and buttery artichokes were an unexpected delight, and the occasional vinegary pickle made for a mouth full of flavors, and lot of perfectly grilled chicken. Much, much more than we expected.
Last were the coffee braised short ribs ($12), served with rosemary thyme polenta, smoky braised greens, sweet corn chow-chow and bone marrow aioli. I pulled the short ribs apart with my fork, no knife required. Braising is an art that demands succulent results, rich, hearty flavors, and this one was spot on. I love to serve polenta or grits with braised meats, and the addition of the greens added not only a Southern touch, but a textural foil to the polenta. Simply an amazing dish.
Our visit was within the first hour of the soft opening. Expect this place to blossom.
27th Avenue Bistro
Where: 1310 27th Avenue, Gulfport
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, with 4-5 p.m. happy hour and 5-9 p.m. for dinner; Friday-Saturday, 4-5 p.m. happy hour and 5-10 p.m. for dinner