HOMEMADE BY KARA: Change your ‘favorites’ list, one area at a time

The last field trip before school and other reasons to seek fun and sun have readers reaching out asking for my favorite foods across the state. Looking back, I realized that these are the only places and the signature dishes are usually on the list. I am happy to share these tried and tested sites if you would like to add me an email. However, it’s time to go out and add a few more.

The list is so long that I have to divide the list, focusing on the southern part of the state first. The rest of my picks will be shared in future columns.

In no particular order, here are a few must-try foods in the southern part of the state. As with all restaurants these days, it’s best to call before you go to confirm the day and hours of operation.

1. Thorny Oyster on Bay St. Louis perhaps better known for its fresh and innovative seafood dishes, but the after-dinner peach-blueberry crisp always calls to me. Sour may seem like a common dish, but when you try the fresh fruit bowl with brown sugar figs with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, you’ll understand why it made the list. 104 N. Beach Blvd., Bay St. Louis; 228-688-0401.

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2. J’s in Waveland is an unassuming place tucked away in a supermarket, but don’t let the exterior deter you from stopping by. I sampled J’s fried shrimp years ago on a media tour and kept coming back. Don’t expect gourmet food or beautiful scenery; Instead, you’ll get friendly, down-home service from the twin sister servers and hearty, hearty dishes like grilled steak, pasta and po’boys. 304 US-90, Waveland; 228-467-9176.

3. Burger Burger’s burgers…Sounds like an alliteration, but it’s a real culinary option when looking for a school experience on the Gulf Coast. Don’t expect a typical round loaf with the same shape. Instead, expect a grilled burger patty topped with a secret sauce encased in a po’boy bun. Make it a long loaf, freshly baked and delivered directly to the restaurant. Enjoying this unusual meal while sitting on the veranda as the ceiling fans whir overhead and the large oak trees provide additional shade makes for an unforgettable meal. 1039 E. Howard Ave., Biloxi; 228-432-5183.

4. Downtown Bistro in, as the name suggests, downtown Gulfport, was new on my culinary radar when a friend and I stopped in recently to hear some live music and enjoy some food. I was drawn to the menu and found the grilled cheese, blackberry jam and smoked bacon sandwich. Learning the great chef considers it one of his signature dishes, I expected a sandwich above average. My expectations were even higher when I tasted what I can easily say is one of the best sandwiches of my life. 1307 25th Ave., Gulfport; 228-284-4531.

5. Finding great pizza on the Gulf Coast isn’t as hard as you might think. There are many local pizzerias to choose from; one of my remaining favorites Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria. I can’t get enough of the gumbo pizza with shrimp, crabmeat, sausage, tomato, okra, cheese and spices on top. A close runner is the spicy shrimp pizza. 2417 14th St., Gulfport; 228-868-9877.

Next week, I’ll reveal some of my favorite foods in central Mississippi before heading upstate.

Speaking of traveling north, the 30th anniversary of NYC Restaurant Week is here until August 21 for those who enjoy dining out – and who isn’t in the food capital of the world? Meals are offered at set prices of $30, $45 or $60 at 600-plus restaurants. If you’re heading to NYC, take advantage of a special promotion to sample 60 dishes from over 80 locations in the five boroughs. For detailed information, visit: nycgo.com.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email him at [email protected]

Cover photo: Gulfport’s Downtown Bistro takes grilled cheese to a new hemisphere with blackberry jam, smoked meats and jalapeños. With a side of homemade chips, it’s a great lunch or dinner.