By LISA MONTI
In the heart of the seafood loving Mississippi Coast, where menus tend to be top- heavy with shrimp, oysters, crabs and fish dishes, a couple of new restaurants are specializing in sizzling steaks served with traditional sides and top brands of wine and liquor.
In Pass Christian, restaurateur Thomas Genin has opened a small steakhouse on the first floor of Hotel Whiskey, his new boutique hotel. Whiskey Prime, serves prime beef exclusively and has already created a following.
In downtown Gulfport, Bob Taylor and his partners in the Half Shell Oyster House restaurant chain will unveil The Rack House in February. It’s in the spot where the former Lookout Steakhouse operated until recently.
Steaks, of course, aren’t all that hard to find on Coast restaurant menus, especially at the casinos, where upscale steakhouses are as standard as the overflowing buffets. Biloxi has three marquee names including Ruth’s Chris in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and Morton’s the Steakhouse inside the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel. Doe’s Eat Place, the Greenville landmark, is open in the Margaritaville Resort.
Bogart’s at Hollywood Gulf Coast in Bay St. Louis and BT Steakhouse at Boomtown in Biloxi “are great amenities which allow our chefs to showcase their exceptional culinary skills and provide our guests with a superior dining experience,” said Monica Scott, vice president of marketing for both properties.
Genin, who owns The Blind Tiger in Bay St. Louis and Ajax Seafood Kitchen in Gulfport, two casual beachfront spots, is so proud of the quality of beef he serves, he put prime in the restaurant name.
“The one thing that sets us apart from every restaurant outside the casinos is we are buying 100 percent USDA prime beef,” he said. “You either buy prime or you don’t.”
The restaurant opened Dec. 5 and the customer mix has been about half Coast residents, half New Orleanian weekenders. Some already have become repeat customers. “We’re as busy as we want to be on weekends,” Genin said.
He described Whiskey Prime as a special occasion, higher-end place, with just 40 seats. “I wanted it to be small,” he said, resulting in a low-volume, high-check operation. The entrees, hand cut daily, start at $37 for a ribeye and go up to a $45 filet mignon.
Customers tend to linger in the dining room after their meal. “The other night a table sipped on bourbon and scotch for an hour after they had dinner,” Genin said.
Whiskey Prime has more than 100 wine selections by the bottle and 15 by the glass. Genin said new labels are added monthly. “Over the next year we’re really going to build up a nice wine collection,” he said. “We want to be able to compete with any wine list locally.”
Whiskey Prime is open daily for dinner and for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Rack House partners – Taylor, Kevin Fish, Rob Heffner and Brian Raspberry – all have experience in the steakhouse business and were looking for a “pet project” when the Lookout location became available. The goal is to open Feb. 20 with a steakhouse that fits somewhere between Outback and Ruth’s Chris in pricing.
“We’re trying to do the same as Half Shell, on the lower end of pricing but closer to the top end of service,” Taylor said. The formula is working. The tenth Half Shell location will open this year.
Taylor said their steakhouse will differ from those in casinos in price and atmosphere, less expensive and more relaxed. “You’re not going to have to figure out which fork to use or which coat or tie to choose from,” he said.
The Rack House will offer choice and prime cuts, aged a minimum of 28 days. Price ranges for steaks will be in the $25 to $45 range depending on the cut and grade. “You won’t be paying a la carte prices for a side dish either, as entrees will come with a choice of side dish,” Taylor said.
The menu will also offer seafood, lamb, veal, duck and monthly specials with entrees including elk and venison. Taylor said the wine list will be extensive, with selections by the bottle and the glass.
The Rack House name is a reference to the building where distillers store and age barrels of bourbon, and the decor will reflect the theme, the owners say.
True to its name, the steakhouse will serve top bourbon and scotch brands, and the owners intend to establish the Rack House Bourbon Society for fans of the beverage.
The Rack House will open daily at 4 p.m. for dinner. The expanded mezzanine will feature a separate lounge with casual seating “perfect for winding down, meeting friends and relaxing in a comfortable environment,” according to the owners.