Will Travel For Food

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris July 23, 2020 10:12 in Dining Diary

Since the early part of this century, people have called the radio show to talk about the Jourdan River Steamer, a place in Kiln Mississippi. Over the course of the show, we have often gotten “tips” from people about great places they love, only to be mystified when we leave. This phenomenon has occurred often enough that we have a particular exchange about it.

It was such a fantastic day on Saturday that it called for getting out of town. The ultimate destination was Bay St. Louis, which very soon will convince people to abandon the four hour drive to Pensacola. More on that later.

The Steamer is before Bay St. Louis, a few miles north of the interstate highway exit for Kiln. Hwy 603.

It shares space with an obscure boat launch that is very popular with locals. The joyous sounds of people enjoying their party barges and jetskis fill the air. The scene reminded me a little of Friends in Madisonville, creating an unsettling feeling about the food at the old Friends, which has apparently scarred more than just me. (NOTE: Friends is now occupied by Anchor and Tchefuncte’s, with food that is a world apart from that place.)

The building has a downstairs bar area, a hostess stand near an elevator, and what appears to be a very controlled system for entrance upstairs.

Once inside, the program made a lot more sense. This is no joint. The space is configured nicely, with dining rooms of various sizes, allowing for parties of all sizes. There is a bar area. Only one of the rooms is “inside” with no view of the fun outside. Fortunately we landed in a dining room and were seated by one of the many large windows . The outer walls are all windows other than the supports.

A look at the menu is a reminder that this is no joint. There were combo platters for the table with prices of three figures, and not all of them started with one. Our entree fish special were $39 each. But I get ahead of myself.

Our server was delightful, allowing Tom to sing “Manhattan” even without ordering the drink.

We started with chargrilled oysters which were spectacularly good, and an eye-popping bargain at $10 for a half dozen. I got the hot crab dip, which I should have realized in a place like this would not be jumbo lump. I say that not because the ingredients here are inferior, which they most certainly are not, but because there are so many different kinds of shellfish here that one would have to expect a medley in a crab dip. I am a Louisiana crab girl (except for a Joe’s Stone crab) so this was a disappointment, but one so mild it’s almost not worth mentioning. It was more bechamel and less cheese, which I am also unused to. This was appropriately priced at $17 and came with thin and savory crostini.

We also had a cup of seafood gumbo with one tiny shrimp in it. This would have been much better with seafood visible, but the flavor was fine. Nothing special.

The menu, as the name suggests, is steamed seafood. Various combinations of Dungeness crabs, King Crab, and Snow Crab, as well as lobster and Ruby Red Shrimp. It was a surprise to not see Louisiana brown or white shrimp or local crabs or crab meat. It was another surprise to see a lot of beef on the menu. Fish may or may not be a regular menu item, because this was an abbreviated menu. The fish dishes were specials.

There were two and we each got one. Tom was thrilled to hear the words red snapper, and I salmon. His entree was a breaded and pan-sauteed red snapper under a hollandaise sauce with crab meat on top. It was accompanied by large stalks of asparagus that he called woody and chunky fried potatoes battered with breadcrumbs. He loved this.

I had wild Faroe Island salmon served over garlicky sauteed spinach alongside a pile of very thin-shaved potatoes with herbs and oil. I couldn't decide if I liked these or not. The rest of the meal was an easy call. The salmon was cooked perfectly and napped with a tarragon-infused creamy sauce.

There was nothing about this experience that wasn’t enjoyable. The drive was pleasant, the place itself just perfect for what it is, the food is excellently sourced, very high quality ingredients well-prepared. For once we looked at each other and nodded in agreement about this “tip.” We get it.

It was still early so we drove into Bay St. Louis. No more sleepy town, this. The last time I was there it was for lunch at Trapani’s a few years ago. What a difference a few years makes. This is one hopping beach scene. Except for the blue vs. brown water, no need to travel farther east. The town is full of delightful cottages, the beaches have recovered enough to have sea oats and sand dunes, and the beachfront restaurants are packed. This is a scene! It all makes me wish I had bought one of the fixer-upper cottages a few years ago instead of just talking about it. Delightful! Can’t wait to return.

Yesterday was a low key eating day. In the COVID era, that means pizza. We’ve hit just about every pizza place on the north shore by now, except Neely’s, which is a cute place in a strip mall on Hwy 22 that garnered a lot of buzz when it started in Slidell many years ago. It was another one of those “tip” places that also turned out to be good. But Neely’s has changed. The pizza looked different. More real Italian and less New York-style.

We did a front door pickup and talked to the new owners, who took over from the Neely’s about six months ago. It is owned by a man from Georgia, as in Eastern Europe, not our American southern neighbor. The pizza baker is the wife, who hails from Palermo, Italy.

The crust is that charred and blistered, pillowy-edged Italian chewy-rather-than-crunchy perimeter. The flavor was greatly enhanced as well. There was a distinctly unusual but perky and pleasing taste. It was loaded with cheese. This pizza was unusual in that it had the glamorous trappings of a real Italian pie but the Mandeville expectations of the toppings. It will be interesting to see if this morphs over time to be the real deal Italian style with the more expensive ingredients. Or if they continue to tread the line between Mandeville and Italy. Either way it’s a win-win. This was a good pizza. At a great price.

Jourdan River Steamer   Kiln, MS

Neely’s Pizza   Mandeville, LA