By Dr. Philip L. Levin //
“If you go to China, you want the best Chinese food in town; in the South, we want to offer the best Southern food in town.” With this philosophy, Ms. Audrey offers up the most delicious Southern cooking you’ve ever tasted, from crisp batter-fried chicken, to shelled purple peas, to Delta farm-raised catfish fillets. The lunch buffet offers patrons a plethora of great Southern food prepared by a woman with 27 years of Mississippi cooking experience.
Set on Gulfport’s 30th Avenue at 17th Street, the unimposing building opens for lunch at 11 a.m., with a dozen patrons awaiting the word “Go.” Each day of the week, there’s a special treat, such as Monday’s
fried chicken, red beans and rice, and ham hocks, or Tuesday’s smothered liver, baked chicken, and pork neck bones. Does this sound like true heartfelt Southern cooking? You bet your sweet little heart.
My favorite is Friday’s seafood buffet. This extravaganza for $16 includes garden salad, cucumber salad, mouth-watering macaroni and cheese, dirty rice, purple hull peas with okra, fried okra, fried catfish strips and catfish fillets, crawfish bread, fried shrimp, and the famous “Cajun boil” of cobbed corn, boiled jumbo shrimp, chopped potatoes, sausage and turkey necks. Add seafood gumbo, “Ms. Audrey’s saucy mashed potatoes,” and you’ll be so stuffed. But leave room for a serving of peach cobbler, banana pudding and lemon meringue pie.
The breakfast buffets on weekdays offer hot buttered grits, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, country- style potatoes, buttermilk biscuits with country gravy, bacon, sausage, and hot fruit preserves. Breakfast specials include chicken wings with waffles, salmon croquettes, filet or whole catfish with grits, and smothered or fried chicken liver.
Ms. Audrey opened her Southern Kitchen in March, coming directly from Gulfport’s beachfront Courtyard Marriott, where she served as food director for nine years. There she prepared their popular Southern buffet until recently when the management changed their theme, prompting Ms. Audrey to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening her own place.
She noted that the Coast didn’t have a single Southern soul-food offering and vowed to provide a place where everything would be fresh and made from scratch. The catfish comes from the Delta, the shrimp from the Gulf. Most of the fresh produce comes from local farmers markets, including the collard greens and sweet potatoes. “We don’t have even a single can in the kitchen,” Ms. Audrey reports. “I wanted to create the feel of mom’s cooking.”
She joined hands with her friend, Kharima Muir, and together they saw the vision, connected by the grace of God, and made it happen, she says. “I love to bring people from all walks of life to break bread together.” Their success, encouraged by the locals who had enjoyed her Marriott servings, was immediate. In just two months, they opened up a back area to add more space, now can seat 150!
Born in Natchez, Ms. Audrey received her culinary experience at the New Orleans Sheraton. Before the hurricane she worked as the food and production manager at Garden Park Hospital. The doctors there loved her cooking so much, they sponsored her first restaurant, the Four C’s on Dedeaux Road in Gulfport, named for Country, Cajun and Caribbean cuisine. “I’ve been in this business 27 years, cooking and catering for 22 years. Soon I’ll be looking to expand to new locations.”
“Everyone is a friend when they come into Ms. Audrey’s,” she says, sitting next to me in her big white apron, watching her customers enjoying her fare. “There’s a difference between a cook who cooks for a living and one who cooks from her soul. You can tell the difference in the food. Love is the key ingredient.”
Come for breakfast or lunch buffet at Ms. Audrey’s Southern Kitchen, and you’ll taste the love.
AUDREY’S SOUTHERN KITCHEN & CATERING
1621 30th Ave., Gulfport
11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday
Closed on Saturday
Weekday breakfast buffets: 6 a.m. – 10 a.m.