GULFPORT -- When the wine is flowing and the plates are being dished, you won't find Corks & Cleaver chef David Dickensauge in the kitchen.
He'll be out on the patio, asking guests about their wine selection or on the second-floor deck, making sure the tapas selections taste superior.
The Gulfport native opened the New American cuisine restaurant he co-owns with his wife, sister and brother-in-law on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
He had cooked around the country and has worked under the late chef Charlie Trotter in Chicago. He has interned at Morimoto's in Philadelphia and worked in New Orleans at Commander's Palace and Galatoire's.
He served as executive chef at the University of Alabama for two years and is the acting head chef of Bin 77 in Baton Rouge and Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen in New Orleans.
Corks & Cleaver's cuisine, he said, is a big city menu with a Mississippi-Louisiana twist. The basis of his food is comfort food.
"As far as I've run from it, it's (Mississippi) always been me," he said.
Dickensauge and his sister, Kim Homrighausen, grew up in Gulfport. And with his extensive resumé under his chef's coat, he decided that at 38 years old, it was time to return home and open something of his own.
"We had an opportunity to maybe open something in Biloxi, but we decided that we would rather be in Gulfport where we grew up," he said.
The building that once housed Red Sky Crabhouse was available, and Dickensauge said the design concept matched his vision for his restaurant.
Renovations were made quickly, and after a couple of rounds of free meals, Corks & Cleaver opened to the public.
The seating has been full since, the wine has been selling and people can't get enough of the one-of-a-kind menu the head chef has put together.
Social media users across South Mississippi have already made Corks & Cleaver a trending topic. It has indoor and outdoor seating on two floors. The second-level deck has views of downtown. On the weekends, a jazz musician will play selections on the patio.
Amanda and Matthew D'Angelo sat on the patio for dinner Friday night.
"We were welcomed by every server, owner and chef," Amanda D'Angelo said on Facebook. "The food was delicious and the atmosphere was relaxing. I highly recommend you go check it out!"
Living up to the hype
Dickensauge said Corks & Cleaver is a game-changer in the South Mississippi restaurant scene because there is nothing quite like it on the Coast.
The business model is three-fold -- Dickensauge and his partners focus on the menu and plating and running a chef-driven restaurant.
"Our menu is very eclectic. We bring different items to the table than a lot of people really carry," he said.
The recipes call for very little butter or cream and focus more on natural flavor from the food.
Dickensauge has a personal relationship with every piece of food he puts on a plate.
"I know where all my produce, where all my proteins comes from," he said."
When he's buying unbleached shrimp and fresh fish, he gets it from a boat. His meat comes from a ranch. He knows the farmers who harvest his fruits and vegetables. Many of the processed meats, like the tasso or boudin, are homemade.
"People say the menu may have been too aggressive for the Mississippi Gulf Coast, just because it's a lot more things than a lot of people really carry." Dickensauge said.
Appetizers, tapas plates and lunch and dinner selections range from $8 to $32.
Some favorites include the lamb empanadas finished with smoked date marmalade, harissa aioli and queso fresco espuma ($8) and the Corks & Cleaver Chicken and Dumplings, which is sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with buttermilk chicken, finished with baby turnips, parsnips, roasted cauliflower and a truffled pan sauce ($12). The meat and cheese trays are also a popular selection.
The presentation of the food is as important as the preparation of the food, Dickensauge believes.
The plating is very clean and precise. Some of the items on the menu come out on wooden planks and others come out on large square plates or deep bowls.
The wine list is extensive, and Corks & Cleaver offers around 40 craft beer options.
But, there's no hard liquor offerings on the menu.
"If I'm going to go out and have a really nice meal and enjoy the cuisine Chef offers, a cocktail doesn't really pair with whose options," co-owner Joey Homrighausen said.
From kitchen to courtyard
Dickensauge said Half Shell owner Bob Taylor and South Mississippi restaurateur Rob Stinson paved the way for Corks & Cleaver, a chef-driven restaurant, to be successful.
When he decided to open in Gulfport, Dickensauge wanted to train cooks to know the food like he does and to prepare it as he would so he would have a chance to get out from the kitchen and into the dining room to interact with customers.
Joey Homrighausen said he and his wife, general manager Kim Homrighausen, arrive at the restaurant about 9 a.m. every morning, but Dickensauge had already been there for a couple of hours. They all leave well after midnight.
It's important for Dickensauge to know his customers, to remember regulars and to interact with his client base. It's what will make the restaurant successful for years to come, he said.