It’s been 30 years since South Mississippi residents and visitors were able to visit White Pillars, and finally the restaurant is about to return.
Executive chef Austin Sumrall and his wife, Tresse, are putting the finishing touches on the restaurant at Beach Boulevard and Rodenberg Avenue before it opens to the public Dec. 12.
Before that, the Sumralls will host a few private holiday parties and are accepting reservations for those who want to be among the first to dine again at White Pillars.
In July, the Sumralls first announced plans to create a farm-to-table restaurant using Mississippi-grown meats and seasonal local vegetables. Austin Sumrall, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, said the menus will be printed in-house since the cuisine will change depending on what ingredients are available.
The couple started contacting sources at farmers’ markets on the Coast more than a year ago, and he said some of the farmers were willing to grow the ingredients he requests.
The new White Pillars is a careful cross between nostalgia and modern dining, he said. Along with the seasonal cuisine will be a vintage section of the menu featuring an appetizer, entree and dessert from the original menu.
Diners shouldn’t look quite yet for the famed Eggplant Josephine, which was the most popular dish while the Mladinich family operated the restaurant for 40 years. That won’t make the menu until the tomatoes and eggplant are in season — probably in April, Sumrall said.
“We will have it,” he promises, “and we’ll also have my version,” possibly served together so people can get a taste of each.
The Mladinich legacy lives on in other ways. Brooks Holstein, managing member of COMVEST Properties, and his wife, Debbie, had both worked at the restaurant for her parents, John and Virginia Mladinich. After White Pillars was damaged and the kitchen demolished during Hurricane Katrina, they made a commitment to her father before he died that they would return the building and the restaurant to prominence. They restored the landmark but left the kitchen for the new operators to design.
Austin Sumrall had never built a kitchen before — “I don’t know many chefs who have,” he said. His prized pieces of equipment are a wood-fired grill and a wood-burning oven, where he’ll grill and roast fresh Mississippi steaks and beef. On the prep side of the kitchen is a 75-year old butcher block where the staff will prepare their own fish, chicken, duck and pork.
Austin and Tresse are Mississippi natives and are infusing the restaurant with Southern hospitality, down to the serving dishes they chose. In addition to the dinner and special event menus, he’s created a list of appetizers and seasonal craft cocktails that will be served at the WP bar.
Those who dined at the original White Pillars will recognize some favorite features. The bar came from the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. The wooden French doors that separate the bar from the dining room are 150 years old and once graced the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.
To get the building on the National Register of Historic Places, the solarium that ran across the front of the restaurant was removed. What was an open terrace at the back of the restaurant was enclosed to create the Terrace Room. Upstairs are rooms for private dining.
They’ve hired a staff of 55 and the first full day of training was Monday as they prepare for what they expect to be a grand opening. The official grand opening celebration will come after the holiday rush is past, he said.
“Reservations are strongly suggested, especially for this first month,” Chef Sumrall said. They can be made online through Open Table or by calling 228-207-0885.
Dinner will be served from 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant will be open New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.