The Gulf Coast has taken more than its share of beatings, Katrina was no doubt one of the worst.
We were intimately acquainted with the destruction she caused in New Orleans from our daughter’s ill-fated attempt to attend Tulane University.
But the worst of the storm’s fury was felt on Mississippi’s shores.
The damage was still evident as we drove along the coast toward Biloxi.
Massive broken pilings that once held extravagantly themed casinos housed on barges, stand like lonely skeletal dinosaurs on the water’s edge.
Most of the casinos have been rebuilt on shore now. But plenty of open lots scattered along the beach road now sit empty. These were prime real estate occupied by grand oceanfront homes and flashy tourist attractions prior to Katrina.
There was a fair amount of “remember when The Treasure Bay was there” or “I think that was where the hotel we stayed at used to be” conversations while we walked along the beach our first evening.
From some of the devastation, lemons were made into lemonade in a most unusual way. In 2007, chainsaw artist Dayton Scoggins carved egrets, seagulls, pelicans and dolphins out of the stumps of broken trees left behind by the storm.
A few years later another artist, Marlin Miller, was inspired by these original carvings and added over a dozen more. Now twenty Katrina Sculptures stand in the median of Beach Boulevard.
Just up the boulevard from the sculptures is the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.
That’s where we found The Sailfish, billed as a “Living Marine Adventure Cruise.” While it may not be a genuine shrimp boat, it is a fun and educational way to spend an afternoon.
The fact that it is not a commercial fishing vessel allows them to do a little unregulated fishing closer into shore. And it gave us tourists a first hand look at just what comes up out of the sea when the nets are pulled in.
The crew of The Sunfish, Captains Brandy and Mike Moore — along with Steve Cason the shrimper / singer / songwriter — love their work and it shows.
The cruise kicked off with a few songs from Steve before casting off. Captain Brandy expertly guided the vessel out of the cramped harbor while Captain Mike, gave the obligatory safety talk / bathroom instructions, then switched hats from sailor to tour guide.
We got the scoop on the history of this part of the gulf as well as a full briefing on just how the shrimping industry works around these parts.
Once we were sufficiently filled in, and away from shore, it was time to do a little shrimpin’.
The nets are weighted so they will sink, then let out a few hundred feet behind the boat and simply drug along for awhile.
At this point there was nothing to do but wait and enjoy a beautiful day at sea.
As the nets were drawn back in, the ever present squawking seagulls and patiently waiting pelicans let us know that
our catch was successful.
Mike and Steve slowly pulled the nets aboard, being careful not to tangle them, and removed the various critters for our observation as they went along.
The Sunfish is equipped with an aquarium on the stern, near the rigging. Steve and Mike tossed in crabs, squid, jellyfish, trout, sardines, pufferfish — and of course shrimp — so we could see them swim about rather than flop around on the deck.
The remaining catch was turned loose for the seagulls to have at. The gulls were more than ready for a seafood dinner — and fought valiantly for the goods.
Hmmm, seafood dinner sounded pretty good. Captain Mike kindly pointed us in the right direction.
Just across Beach Boulevard from the harbor, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant is a must on any visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
This Biloxi tradition has been serving incredible Creole dishes since 1964, when Bob and Mary Mahoney converted the oldest house in town into this remarkable restaurant.
The building dates back to 1737 and our walk around the courtyard was an historical journey in and of itself.
Changing out of the old boat duds is a good idea though, because Mary’s is definitely a few cuts above the typical come as you are beachside eatery.
We didn’t plan ahead for this, (What? Plan ahead? Us?) and since it was only four in the afternoon when we got off the boat, we decided to order a few appetizers and take them to the beach.
The shrimp remoulade featured huge shrimp, right out of the water, with a perfect French-style remoulade sauce on a bed of greens.
Like crab? When Mary Mahoney’s makes a crab cake, they make a CRAB cake. Not a crab flavored cake, but a cake made out of crab. Yeah, baby.
Then there’s the Shrimp & Crab Au Gratin. Words failed us, we just shut up and ate. Had a bit of a gull-like battle.
Growling stomachs held at bay for a bit, we decided to use this beautiful spring evening for a drive into New Orleans to see how The Big Easy had come along since Katrina.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com