An Absolute Outlier

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris August 28, 2022 18:00 in Dining Diary

For most of our tenure on the Northshore, The Southern Hotel has been a cruel reminder of the ebb and flow of life. It is over a hundred years old, but for at least half of that time, it sat as an eyesore in the middle of downtown, vacant for many years.

Eight years ago in June, a local lawyer unveiled her passion project to much fanfare. The Southern Hotel had reopened as a beautiful contemporary specimen of modern casual good taste. It completely revitalized an already vibrant old downtown full of shops and eateries. The Southern Hotel is a great place for visiting family and a hub for residents. Foot traffic abounds now.

A restaurant occupies the southeast corner of the property, and when the hotel opened, it was a most peculiar arrangement for a hotel restaurant. Many a restaurant has parted company with management because they didn’t want to adhere to the strenuous requirements for hotel restaurants: they should serve three meals every day.

I always marveled at the deal the Hansells, owners of Oxlot 9, managed to eke out of owner Lisa Condrey Ward. They were open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday at first. Hotel guests wanting breakfast were advised to order from Mattina Bella, a mere block away. 

It was a testament to the desirability of the Hansell's fantastic food that this deal held up as long as it did. Gradually they added more days and hours in the day, but never breakfast. 

In the meantime, the Hansells opened The Thorny Oyster, a place with a similar hotel arrangement in Bay St. Louis. And then one day a cryptic IG post sent shockwaves as I read it. Amy Hansell hinted at a move for Oxlot 9. This was devastating to me. Oxlot was ten minutes from home and a weekly lunch venue. We were nuts about the place.

It turned out that the news was even more dire. They would simply close, a move precipitated by irreconcilable COVID differences between the Hansells and the hotel’s owner. The Hansells felt it unwise to open a new place amidst all the havoc wrought by COVID, and our beloved Oxlot went away. Even sadder, no one could say a proper goodbye, because it went away the day Ida arrived, and as always, people scattered.

The space sat sadly empty for months, speculation swirling as to who would take up residence there. John Besh went through it, as did many others, some names and some not. By October it was known that the new guy in the kitchen would be Steven Marsella, formerly the corporate chef for the Creole Cuisine Restaurant. This was not a promising development, because Oxlot 9 was a great restaurant, and the Creole Cuisine Concept group is known for food that is “fine” but nothing special.

The space that was once the modern and edgy Oxlot 9 sat empty and vacant for awhile, and soon it became obvious that these two restaurants couldn’t be any more different. The windows were covered with brown paper, but little peeks here and there revealed an ethereal space of pastel colors emerging that reminded me of a Beatrix Potter painting. 

I had no idea how to feel about the new place, and no real expectations. Then I saw an invite from the Southern Hotel for a buffet plate of fried seafood the night before Thanksgiving. I went over to get a plate and discovered chafing dishes filled with fried shrimp and fried fish and french fries that were fresh cut, as well as coleslaw and hushpuppies.

Even though it was buffet lukewarm, the spice level and flavor of this fried seafood was exceptionally good. The fries were great too. I left very hopeful about the new restaurant so close to our home.

A few months later we received an invitation to the soft opening of the Gloriette, and we were delighted to go.

I referenced that night on the website and in this newsletter a few months ago. Since then we have been to the Gloriette several times, for each meal they are currently open. It has been consistently delicious, the service friendly and perfect, and always expensive. This is not a place to drop in. It is an event to dine there, even for breakfast. It’s just that fancy. Because that is not my style, I am sad about this, but I love the place anyway.

It wasn’t long after they opened that we went for dinner. My delight began with bread service. Two flaky croissant knots arrived on a plate with beautiful butter. This was exquisitely elegant, and my enthusiasm caused them to offer more. I obliged.

Tom got oysters, of course. These were lightly dusted in corn flour and fried with an herbal butter and a bit of cheese and topped with a dollop of roe. I ordered an oyster stew that was prettily presented with a smattering of oil. This was creamy and rich. Very satisfying. It came with a cornbread Madeline which was also good, and I usually don’t like cornbread in restaurants.

For entrees Tom got a pan seared slab of halibut with an Amandine preparation, using pecans instead. This had a nice flavorful coating and was seared just so. It was a generous portion and he liked it quite well. It was accompanied by very fancy French almost-mashed potatoes, or Pommes Mousseline. 

I was not quite as thrilled with my entree, but I blame that on me. Ribeyes are everywhere, and I finally decided to quit ordering them, simply because I enjoy a filet a lot more. There was nothing wrong with this ribeye, if you like ribeyes. It took me a while to realize I don’t. The glaze was delicious, the preparation exactly as I asked (maybe that is the problem), and the presentation was eye-popping. But the shoestring potatoes were tiresome to eat after a while, and I felt their thinness and crispness was not enough to stand up to the steak. The entire thing registered to me as too much.

For dessert Tom got a creme brulee that I didn’t understand at all. It was flavored with Earl Grey tea and looked…dingy. No matter how fancy it was decorated, creme brulee has a creamy yellow custard color, and this was an unpleasant surprise. Tom loved it. I will defer to his opinion, since I never eat creme brulee. It is still on the menu so I assume other people who also eat creme brulee are not put off by it.

For a chef like Steven Marsella (who had clearly shelved his considerable talents at creating stunning and delicious food at Creole Cuisine), it is not necessary to do everything as expected. Kudos to him for expressing his creativity and sticking to it. 

Our next meal at The Gloriette was more to my liking. I ordered a chocolate biscuit to start, imagining the chocolate to be baked into the biscuit. When it arrived I was surprised to see a regular biscuit in a puddle of chocolate sauce. It was of course glamorously presented, and what could ever be wrong with chocolate sauce, or a perfect biscuit? I was just surprised to see them together. Naturally, I ate every scrap.

Tom got a ham and cheese omelet with spinach for an entree, and I do believe it was the single most beautiful omelet I have seen. Anywhere. It had to be, with a name like Jambon de Paris. Enormous, it was perfectly folded, cooked exactly right, and made fancier with sprigs of fresh dill and watercress. Two strawberries completed the look.

Predictably, I got the basic breakfast, usually called the American breakfast. Here it is called The Gloriette Breakfast, and it is two farm eggs done any way you like, with a breakfast meat like sausage or bacon, and grits or potatoes with biscuit or toast.

The Gloriette Breakfast came with Brie cheese grits and a cream biscuit. I got eggs over easy and bacon, which was everything I wanted it to be. Steven Marsella can make a basic fried egg beautiful, and the bacon was thick and smoky and sweet at the same time. Three slices of very good bacon is generous and enough, if enough bacon can ever be the case.

I love the biscuit here. It is from the cut biscuit world, and is dense and just flaky enough. Jam is served alongside it. The jams are homemade here and Tom, who is a bit of a jam connoisseur, considers them fantastic. I am not a jam eater and even I ate it.

The Brie cheese grits were creamy and frankly, too rich for me. Grits are tricky. I almost never find any that excite me. These look like superior grits in raw materials, preparation, and creativity, but they were too much for me. 

Tom finished his meal with a delicious Galette topped with housemade coffee ice cream.

It wasn’t long after this visit that we heard from a caller on the show that The Gloriette was open for simple weekday breakfast. We went right away. For some reason that day, the restaurant was closed for a private party at breakfast. We had ours in the bar. I love the bar at The Southern Hotel, but it was definitely weird to be having breakfast there.

The French Toast was also weird, but in the most fantastically special way. I have never seen the like. A large slab of white bread (really large)is battered and forms a spacious bed for a beautifully arrayed sort of garden of assorted berries. This is sprinkled with crumbles of powdered and brown sugar. It is a thing to behold, and Tom tells me it was even better to eat. The price was a shocker too. $10 for this!!

My apologies for my lack of experimentation, but I just love an elegant and simple breakfast. I got the same thing I had at brunch, and it was consistent. That’s something to report, isn’t it? Consistency is one of the hardest things for a restaurant to achieve, and this one is the same every time.

All of the menus at The Gloriette tend to be smaller than you are used to seeing. Sometimes it is an effort to pick out something to eat.  But when it arrives, you can be sure that it will be as delicious as it is beautiful, and that is saying something. 

The service matches the surroundings and the food. The Gloriette is an outlier. There is nothing quite like it out there.

You just feel special sitting in the beautiful space with your eyes feasting on the murals of happiness. And then a smiling someone who is very attentive and friendly brings you a plate of beautiful food that tastes as good as it looks.

I didn’t have to go to such lengths to describe The Gloriette. Absolutely everything I just said can be encapsulated simply in the logo for the place. It is a smiling fairy-like face inside a tulip, with a collar of leaves. Perfect, just like the restaurant.