‘Just Good Food.’ How Upscale Coast Restaurants Are Getting Creative Amid Coronavirus.
Seldom has the restaurant industry faced a challenge like what they are facing today, particularly in some of the Coast’s fine dining restaurants.
All of the casino restaurants are shuttered, including upscale favorites like BR Prime, thirty-two and Mingon’s Steak & Seafood. But the locally owned places — like Vestige, White Pillars, Field’s Steak & Oyster Bar and Charred, to name a few — have mostly remained open and doing a brisk business.
Many restaurants have full staffs on the payroll, at least those that are comfortable working.
“This isn’t about making money, this is about making sure our staff, cooks and servers, are getting a paycheck,” White Pillars Chef Austin Sumrall said.
He still offers his staff a family meal, a restaurant industry tradition of a free staff meal during work hours, and on the day I visited he had purchased that meal from another restaurant to show support. You’ll find that kind of support common in many professional kitchens.
Other restaurants have smaller staffs working, as business has dropped off now that dining room service is no longer possible.
One of the biggest changes that I found was an almost universal move toward comfort food, and family-style meals. It is human nature to turn towards foods that we might have enjoyed as kids, the favorite things you mother cooked for you when times are uncertain.
You will also find chefs trying to control food costs, as they understand that value is very important in many homes now. Chef Alex Perry of Vestige in Ocean Springs said, “We are trying to offer value, locally sourced foods and as much comfort as possible. It’s just good food, nothing fancy.”
On the day I visited Vestige, the menu included some solid German favorites, like roasted pork loin and spatzle, a German style pasta that is as comforting as any dish that I know of.
Field’s Steak House and Oyster Bar in Bay St Louis has weekly specials that fit the comfort requirement exactly. Recently the menu included six-cheese lasagna, cheeseburger po-boy and chicken fried steak sandwich. This is a menu that remains creative, but hits hard on the sort of comfort foods people are craving.
White Pillars is following suite, and when I visited was offering a pretty amazing smoked and fried chicken and some very creative, and comforting, pot pies.
Chef Milton Joachim is one of my favorite chefs on the Coast, and has an amazing Creole background. His menu is still changing daily, but I recently saw red beans and rice, roast beef and gravy, and a baked Bolognese made with roasted tomato sauce,
All the chefs I talked to are worried about the future. The federal government’s Payroll Protection Plan will help, but as Chef Perry said, “Its a short term bandage.”
All agreed that the industry would bounce back when dining rooms reopened, and it is safe for people to come out, go back to work and visit their favorite restaurants again.
If you need a little comfort in your life, some of the Coast’s better known restaurants are doing their best to meet the challenge. Comfort, in family style meals, and value, is now the new standard, as well as curbside service, take out and delivery.