He left a little “lean” in the old Creole cottage he restored in downtown Biloxi and used all the wood he could salvage to give his new restaurant character, and now Curtis Schmitt is tweaking the menus to make his Southport Line memorable.
“I want to be the neighborhood place to go and eat and meet friends,” said Schmitt.
He grew up in a construction family and became interested in food at age 15. Southport Line gave him a chance to combine his construction background and his love for food.
The restaurant is on Howard Avenue, just to the east of Main Street, where Biloxi trolleys once passed. The place is named for the historic street car line that ran on Oak Street in Uptown New Orleans. The one-page menu, used for lunch and dinner daily, has “Conductor” and “Striker” categories and recalls the 1929 strike by New Orleans street car workers that is credited with the invention of the po-boy.
The new restaurant opened just a few weeks ago and already has had quite a ride. Schmitt used Cruisin’ The Coast Block Party in downtown Biloxi on Oct. 4 as a soft opening. The grand opening was Oct. 13, and a day later the restaurant closed for Hurricane Nate. He capitalized on the down time by putting finishing touches on the restaurant and providing more training for the staff.
Now customers find a big welcome along with plenty of off-street parking, a ramp for easy access and gas lamps to provide New Orleans charm. Lighting is strung across the big outdoor dining deck, and photos of trolleys and other symbols of Biloxi’s past hang throughout the dining room.
It’s a big change from how Schmitt found the building that was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A couple of the walls were leaning and the supports had to be replaced.
“We stabilized the building,” he said, and created a colorful mix of wood on the walls and floors. The kitchen is open concept, so customers can see the cleanliness and the action, he said.
With the restoration complete, he’s focusing on the food.
“I wanted to do real New Orleans po-boys,” he said, and he chose Michael Paoletti Jr. of Ocean Springs as executive chef. They put traditional catfish and shrimp po-boys on the menu and added some original sandwiches such as fried chicken tender with wasabi buffalo sauce or dill pickle chicken with pimento cheese, tomato and hot sauce.
“We’re very like minded in what we wanted to bring to the table,” he said. They search for the freshest, locally sourced ingredients, he said, right down to making their own mayonnaise and mustard and buying French bread from Le Bakery on Oak Street in East Biloxi.
Right from the starters, which are all $7, are unusual choices such as a homemade pickle plate in the chef’s secret brine, fries with homemade gravy, cheese curds and mustard or a meat board prepared in-house. For those on a special diet are salads, Vegan and gluten-free selections and he’s working on getting a good gluten-free French bread for po-boys. For a treat, the desserts are made by Paoletti’s fiance, a pastry chef.
“The menu’s going to be evolving on a weekly basis,” he said. “We’re going to start incorporating plate specials for the dinner crowds.” He’ll introduce soups made with fresh ingredients from local farmers markets.
The restaurant has a full bar and Schmitt said, “I have a background in mixology as well. I’m a certified mixologist,” and he plans to use those skills creating “high end cocktails on Biloxi budget.”
The bar menu from 3 p.m. to close features is a variety of chef-inspired dishes. “It’s not you typical bar menu,” he said.
He’s also planning to add entertainment of the patio on weekends.
As he supports the local, small businesses and feeds downtown workers, city officials and first responders, Schmitt’s learning his customers’ tastes, right down to how they like their po-boys.
“Biloxi likes them pressed,” he said.