Mississippi Gulf Coast — In this area of great food and abundant places to eat, there are restaurants along the beaten path that draw crowds of tourists. Then there are those, perhaps lesser known and somewhat off the beaten path, that are considered dining legends in their own way.
On Delmas Street in downtown Pascagoula, Scranton’s Restaurant has been serving tasty dishes for 23 years in a building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was named Scranton’s because that part of town was called Scranton’s and officially became known as Pascagoula only 100 years ago.
Scranton’s is owned by Richard Chenoweth, Merle Ivy and Jack Pickett. Chenoweth, the managing partner, explains that the brick facility the restaurant occupies was built in 1924 as the town’s city hall to replace the wooden structure that burned down.
“It was the city hall, jail, fire department and courtroom,” he said. “My office is in a cell and the lounge is called the Engine Room because that’s what it was.”
The old vault is still there too. The upstairs was a civic center with 3,200 square feet of space that the restaurant uses as a banquet room with seating for 200 diners.
Operating with what Chenoweth calls “Pascagoula hours,” Scranton’s is open Monday through Friday for lunch and Wednesday through Saturday for dinner, so that means no dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays and no lunch on Saturdays. The restaurant employs 40 full- and part-time employees.
They serve “fried of course,” along with blackened, steamed, broiled and grilled beef, seafood and chicken and the usual salads and sandwiches.
“Our most unusual dish is fish in a bag, a great broiled stuffed snapper,” he said. “It’s all kinds of fresh vegetables with snapper in a lemon, garlic, butter sauce cooked in a number six brown paper bag in a 500 degree oven for 25 minutes. All the flavors steam together. We slide it on a plate and the bag lifts right off.”
Chenoweth says he was always interested in the restaurant business. He worked his way through the University of Mississippi, where he earned a business administration degree, by bartending and waiting tables at The Warehouse. Jack Pickett, now a practicing attorney, waited tables at Poet’s in Jackson.
Currently serving the Mississippi Restaurant Association (MRA) as vice president, Chenoweth looks forward to moving up to president-elect and president, hoping he can bring more recognition to dining options in his town.
“When I was president of the association’s Gulf Coast Chapter, the restaurant guide stopped at Ocean Springs,” he said.
Chowing down at Jack’s for 29 years
For 29 years locals and visitors have been chowing down at Jack’s on Coleman Avenue in Waveland. The majority of the visitors are New Orleans residents who spend weekends in Hancock County, according to the restaurant’s owner Donna Holt, who’s been there for 27 years.
Holt has spent her entire working life at Jack’s. She started there as a waitress at age 18 and has owned it for the past 15 years.
“I guess you could say I’ve worked my way up the corporate ladder to become chief bottle washer,” she said. “I guess I’ll collect Social Security here.”
There is no Jack. That’s a leftover from the original owner, but Holt’s not about to change the name of the place that’s known for Swiss-baked crabmeat that tops pan sautéed local speckled trout, veal and beef and their outstanding avocado salad dressing.
“That dressing is a real killer,” Holt said. “We make all our own dressings but that’s the most popular. We’re also known for our steaks that are cooked on a real grill with a chimney. They’re magical. And we do great grilled fish on the same grill.”
Jack’s also serves shrimp and pasta dishes but has no chicken dishes.
The chef is Holt’s cousin Gerald Mauffray, who Holt says is her hero. The restaurant is a family affair. Holt’s sisters worked there before her and now she has her daughter working there. Her brother, a schoolteacher, helps out on weekends and her dad is the restaurant’s accountant.
“It’s good to have family working together, but everyone is brutally honest,” she said.
Jack’s is also known for their jukebox with its 45 rpm records that go all the way back to the 1930s and 40s. Another trademark are the bright red tablecloths and open seating arrangement in what can only be described as late double-wide architecture.
“Everyone thinks it’s a double-wide trailer but it’s not,” Holt says with a laugh. “It just looks like it. We’re not big on décor, but you can’t eat the décor.”
Open seven days a week from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., Holt says Jacks’s is the best kept secret on the Coast and leans on its reputation through good times and bad times.
People come for atmosphere, the food
Trapani’s Eatery has high visibility on the main drag in old town Bay St. Louis, and that’s fine with Tony Trapani who opened the restaurant in 1993. His location is right across the street from where his grandfather operated Trapani’s Knock Knock Bar and Restaurant until Hurricane Camille destroyed it.
“I come from a long line of cooks and was a waiter all over the place before I opened my own restaurant,” he said. “My mother taught me a lot about cooking. She did the red spaghetti gravy, gumbo, all the stuff that mamas cook.”
Trapani, 40, describes his restaurant as a “nostalgic kind of place where people come for the atmosphere and the food.”
Among the house specialties are yellow fin tuna, speckled trout, pasta dishes and black angus and U.S. prime steaks. The item they serve the most is their fried green tomatoes topped with crabmeat and hollandaise sauce.
“The only thing we serve that we don’t cook are cheese sticks,” Trapani said. “We have the largest menu on the Coast with 84 menu items plus our special board.”
This chef says steaks are the hardest thing to get just right, but he feels he serves the highest quality beef. Trapani’s signature dish is yellow fin tuna with a wasabi and soy sauce that’s topped with caramelized onions and crawfish tails.
Trapani’s Eatery is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and serves an average of 200 to 300 people each day. There are 28 employees and that number does not include Trapani’s children, Grace and Joseph, at this time. At ages 3 1/2 and 5 years, he says he’ll give them a little time before bringing them in as busboys.
“It’s hard work, as hard as it gets but I’ll do it till I die,” he said. “I just like cooking; getting back there when the restaurant and the ticket board are full. At the end of the day, you can give everyone a high five.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.