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Great food big draw for Ocean Springs

Restaurant mecca sprouts in Casino Row’s shadow

OCEAN SPRINGS – What Biloxi is to casinos, Ocean Springs is to fine dining. In the past two years the number of restaurants in the small town located just across the bridge from Casino Row has nearly doubled.

“Good food has been a real draw for Ocean Springs,” says Margaret Miller, executive vice president, Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce-Main Street. “We have a real fine mixture of different types of restaurants.”

For many years restaurants like Germaine’s Fine Dining and Jocelyn’s on U.S. 90 and Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant overlooking scenic Old Fort Bayou on Washington Avenue gave Ocean Springs the reputation as being a place worth visiting just for the food. In recent years the old favorites have been joined by so many new restaurants that you have to wonder if anyone in this city of 14,000 still eats at home.

Miller says that while locals are big patrons of the Ocean Springs restaurants, the influx of outsiders has allowed growth that couldn’t have happened with only local support. The increase in visitors to the Coast is an important factor in the success of the restaurants, most of which are locally owned.

“These aren’t chain restaurants,” Miller said. “We all know the families behind the food. The restaurants are owned and operated by people you live with and know. People appreciate supporting that kind of independent small business. It is local people supporting local people.”

Bayview Gourmet on Government Street is credited with kicking off the beginning of a restaurant boom in Ocean Springs. Bayview has an attractive outdoor dining area, and serves gourmet coffee and sandwiches, fresh baked pastries, muffins and breakfasts that can make a whole day.

Other Government Street restaurants include the new Phoenicia Gourmet, which serves Greek Food, Pleasant’s Bar-B-Q, and Rene’s Quality Meats, a new Cajun restaurant.

Even though it is outside the city limits, locals know that one of the best lunch deals on the Coast is at Port O’Call Restaurant on LeMoyne Boulevard in St. Martin. For less than $5 you can enjoy lunch specials such as shrimp spaghetti and crab-stuffed potatoes.

B.B.’s Po Boy and Seafood on U.S. 90 in Ocean Springs is another long-time favorite eatery, and has been joined nearby by Catch of the Day Restaurant, a Vietnamese-owned restaurant that also serves seafood which opened a couple of months ago.

An historic home on Porter Avenue was renovated into the Porter House Restaurant. The beautiful home has two porch dining areas including one that is sheltered by a large, ancient oak.

Works by local artists decorate the walls.

“Porter House has a wonderful ambiance,” Miller said. “There is really great variety at just that one restaurant. They have baby back ribs, and are marketing their own barbecue sauce. They also have four or five fresh fish entrees, all made to order.”

Downtown there are several good choices within walking distance of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Salvetti’s Italian Restaurant serves meals often accompanied by live piano music.

Martha’s Tea Room is a lunch spot that is a popular town meeting spot. And while LeCroissant French Bakery often closes before noon, it is worth getting up early to visit if you like fresh-baked bread, pastries and croissants.

Ocean Springs also boosts two excellent Thai restaurants. Sala Thai is a small, unpretentious restaurant on U.S. 90 with food so good that people from New Orleans have been known to drive over just to eat there. On the other end of town near the beach is the Bangkok House Thai Cuisine. The proprietor, Nan, has an amazing memory and can recall diners names and even what they ate on previous visits with an accuracy that is astounding. Bangkok House has a “Happy Room” for Asian-style eating on cushions with a low table.

If you’ve never tried Thai food, it is somewhat similar to Chinese food but is generally spicier and uses herbs like lemon grass that aren’t used that much in American cooking.

Ocean Springs also has two coffee shops. Que Pasa located on U.S. 90 and the newly opened Ocean Springs News.

Could Ocean Springs ever get too much of a good thing, and have so many restaurants that the pie gets cut too many ways? Miller doesn’t think so.

“Like the chain restaurant business, more is better and attracts more customers,” Miller said. “I’m hearing from restaurants that they are very successful. If any fall by the wayside, it is because they don’t have good management, good food and good service. At this point we haven’t had anyone fall by wayside, so they are all doing a good job.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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