The scene: The cartoonish logo of an alligator and a crawfish, both wearing white toques, the traditional chef’s hat, is very appropriate at Dempsey’s. It has a roadside shack feel, casual vibe and real Gulf Coast sense of place, and the quality of the food is taken very seriously. It’s a green barn-like structure with open front porch and overhanging awning in the area’s architectural style, located on a less traveled road in Kiln (pronounced “Kill”), Miss. Next door, a matching smaller structure in red houses Da Swamp Shop, a satellite gift store where you can peruse local handicrafts and foodstuffs. It’s the kind of setting that begs those who enjoy road tripping to pull over. The current location is six years old, as Dempsey’s had to move and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
Inside are high ceilings with exposed rafters and corrugated metal sheeting. Ceiling fans twirl and walls are covered with photos of local settings, fishing boats and lots of articles praising the place. There is also more cartoon seafood art and a blackboard of daily specials with the headline “Be Nice or Leave!” In front is a large dining room with a cozy feel, and in back a full bar area with additional seating, sort of two spots in one, with coffee shop and tavern atmospheres. Tables are well stocked with condiments that give a hint of what is to come: salt, pepper, ketchup, cocktail sauce and tartar sauce.
Reason to visit: Shrimp and grits, mac and cheese, char grilled oysters, fried Gulf seafood
The food: The main attraction at Dempsey’s is fresh seafood, locally fished from the Gulf of Mexico, offered in a dizzying array of preparations and combinations. The house specialty is char grilled oysters, popular in New Orleans and the surrounding area, but not seen as much in the rest of the country (this part of the Mississippi coast shares many culinary traditions with neighboring Louisiana). Topped with garlic butter and cheese, then cooked in their shells and natural saline juices, the grilled oysters are delicious, and a meaty, excellent way for people who don’t think they like oysters to experience this Gulf specialty.
There are many other Dempsey’s highlights, including fried seafood, with your choice of oysters, shrimp or redfish, the three specialties of the Gulf, along with crawfish and catfish. If you can’t pick one, there’s a half and half combo and a “3-part” combo for those who really have difficulty narrowing down the selection. The shrimp are excellent, the fried crawfish big and meaty, among the very best I’ve ever had, and the only one that doesn’t impress me is the catfish, which is often a bit hit or miss — go…