on the outside. And it doesn’t look like much on the inside either. In fact, Taranto’s has raised the concept of “no frills” to new heights.
“Taranto & Sons is out of the way, but worth the drive. This is one of those things that Mississippi does best: a simple, little dive of a place out in the middle of nowhere, serving great, equally simple food…. (T)his place was like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow….” “…I rated the atmosphere as great, but this is a distinctly local place with its own charm that I just love. It's not luxurious so if you want fine dining, go elsewhere—you won't be happy here.” “Don't judge the book by its cover. Doesn't look like a 5 star restaurant, but based on food and service, it is. While driving back to Michigan from New Orleans, we stopped here for lunch based on Tripadvisor recommendations. Everything about Taranto's was great….” “Off the beaten path but worth finding. Not a fancy dining place for sure, but best seafood we ate during our vacation here.”
“Taranto opened his restaurant in 2002 after working as a chef in places like Singapore and Dubai. His seafood looks as simple as the plain, basic furniture in the restaurant. ‘They pretty much pull those shrimp straight out of the water and boil them,’ said George Schloegel, (former) mayor of neighboring Gulfport. “Taranto said that none of his staff know the recipe for the secret spice blend he uses to cook the shellfish, potatoes and corn. The spices generate a mild heat in your mouth that steadily grows until it plateaus at a just manageable burn. ‘You could kidnap my staff, but you couldn’t get them to give you the recipe because I’m the only one who knows it,’ he said…. The food he serves is popular among locals, ‘but then half of them are our kin folks,’ he said with an easy laugh. Speaking of which, Taranto said he buys most of his shrimp from family or friends. ‘We’ve all known each other since we were kids,’ he said.”
So we opted to order the mixed seafood platter with catfish, oysters, shrimp, a crab cake, and fries.
Let me start with the least satisfying part of the plate—the crab cake. After the amazing crab cake I recently ate and Steve and Pat’s Bon Temps Grill in Lafayette, the cake that followed it was bound to be disappointing. Taranto’s was representative of the genre in this part of the country—heavy on filler and light on crab with a decidedly peppery flavor.
The slaw was excellent. So good that Chuck, on whose side of the table the bowl was set, never moved it closer to my reach. It was cold and crisp with a light slightly sweet dressing, one that I have come to believe is a Southern take on slaw. And the fries were piping hot, crisp, and coated.
The catfish was so fresh and flakey that it needed the more substantial coating just to hold it together. The shrimp and crawfish needed more texture and the plump oysters needed less lest their juicy softness be compromised. And it was the fried oysters that were the star on the plate. “You can taste the Gulf in every bite” remarked Chuck.
We so enjoyed Taranto’s that we returned the following day. Since I had read that this is where the locals go for their “boil,” I came for the boiled crawfish. And I knew from reading that this boil is different from that found in Louisiana. One reviewer speculated that while a Louisiana boil gets its heat from cayenne, Taranto’s uses jalapenos. I’m not sure that this is an accurate assessment, but the crawfish at Taranto’s wasn’t as spicy as those I have eaten just across the border. But my lips still had a mild tingle by the time I was finished.
Now here is a concrete example of my influence on Chuck’s food choices. A few years ago, he wouldn’t have eaten a fried oyster. Just recently, he will—as long as they are the smaller and less juicy ones. But today, having enjoyed the oysters on our sampler plate yesterday, he ordered the a la carte oyster appetizer and rapidly devoured them all—large and small ones alike.
My head tells me that I should deduct a half an Addie for the less than perfect crab cake. But I am going with my heart and awarding the full 5.0 Addies. Taranto’s is the kind of place that makes traveling—and dining—so interesting.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.