2 hidden gastronomic destinations in the south

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When it comes to dining options in rural areas or small towns off the beaten path, south of the house restaurants often attract attention. The idea was that smaller towns lack the critical mass of potential diners to support talented chefs who want to experiment with more elegant cuisine. Or, the more arrogant perspective was that there wasn’t enough culinary sophistication among the clientele to appreciate this kind of elevated food.

Well, we’re here to prove that kind of snobbery is dead wrong, and we have plenty of evidence to back it up!

Residents of Manhattan and Washington, D.C. have long made the pilgrimage out of the metropolises to award-winning culinary hotspots like Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley and the Inn at Little Washington in small-town Blue Ridge. Mountain. There are more and more rural foodie destinations popping up down south lately — and others that may not have hit your radar simply because they’re well outside the city lights. To help you get started, here are two we think you should look out for.

Restaurant du Haut Point

224 Main St., Monteagle, TN 37356 • (931) 924-4600
Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

US Route 31 was once known as “The Dixie Highway”, linking Chicago and Miami for motorists in the early 20th century. An infamous frequent traveler between these destinations was mobster/bootlegger Al Capone, who had homes and major operations in both cities. Capone also smuggled a lot of alcohol into Tennessee, primarily from clubs in Printers Alley in Nashville.

Monteagle, TN is about halfway down the Dixie Highway and just over an hour from Nashville, so it was a logical location for another center of operations for Capone’s crew. The gangster financed the construction of a beautiful sandstone house just off the highway at the top of Monteagle Mountain. As the most significant elevation between the Route 31 termini, it became known as “High Point”. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, High Point has been home to an eponymous restaurant since 1999 and offers the finest restaurants for miles around.

Besides the great food, the stately three-story Tudor mansion is worth a visit just to see its Capone-inspired architectural quirks. The roof is equipped with an escape hatch, and the stone outcroppings in the exterior walls make it easy to dash past any Federals who might visit. The tunnels under the basement provide secret spaces for storing and smuggling booze, and the ceiling above the tunnels was filled with sand to prevent any bullets being fired through the floor above.

The charming Tudor-style mansion was originally called RyeMabee. Image: High Point Restaurant

High Point’s interior still features many architectural elements of Capone’s design. High ceilings trap the warmth of a large fireplace to chase away the chill of a winter dinner, and hardwood floors and dark stained mahogany doors and trim accent the cream walls.

Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail by the bubbling fountain on the charming stone patio, the spot where Capone legendaryly enjoyed drinks and card games with John Dillinger. You can also partake of High Point’s signature appetizer, Rockefeller oysters, topped with tangy Hollandaise sauce.

Plate of Rockefeller oysters with a glass of red wine from High Point Restaurant

Rockefeller oysters al fresco are a great start to a meal in High Point. Image: High Point Restaurant

The dinner menu at High Point runs the gamut of fine dining styles, from steaks and seafood to pastas, all expertly prepared. Seasonal salads make a great starter, and when the berries are ripe, blackberry salad with gorgonzola is a good choice. The rich lobster bisque is another favorite among regular diners.

Blackberry Salad from High Point Restaurant, a rural restaurant in Tennessee

Fresh blackberries add a nice zing to this salad! Image: High Point Restaurant

High Point Restaurant Pear Salad

Pears and Brie are a classic combination. Image: High Point Restaurant

Choose your steak cut from Tenderloin, Ribeye or Striploin NY for the Black & Bruised Steak Preparation, cooked to your desired temperature and topped with cracked peppercorns and blue cheese butter. Add a lobster tail to the tenderloin for a prototypical surf and turf, or pair it with pasta and cheese sauce as part of their steak and gorgonzola alfredo.

Duck is also popular in High Point, appearing as part of an Asian-inspired appetizer of sesame-crusted duck breast with a tangy ponzu sauce and as a main course served under a tangy blackberry sauce. Dessert is often the highlight of a meal here, with a unique grilled pound cake as the show stopper. Be sure to take the time to stroll around the building before or after your meal, so you don’t miss the fine details of this important piece of American history.

Steak and lobster from High Point Restaurant, a rural restaurant in Tennessee

Choose between tenderloin or a strip of NY to accompany a grilled lobster tail for some great surf n’ turf. Image: High Point Restaurant

High Point Restaurant Blackberry Duck

Blackberry sauce drizzled with grilled duck breast in another mountaintop delight. Image: High Point Restaurant

Bananas Foster dessert from High Point Restaurant, a rural restaurant in Tennessee

Bananas Foster is a sweet treat to end your meal. Image: High Point Restaurant

Vestige

715 Washington Ave, Ocean Springs, MS 39564 • (228) 818-9699
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Close on Sunday

Usually, semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South awards come from major traditional culinary hubs like New Orleans. However, this year’s awards spotlight a talented chef from the small town of Ocean Springs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The attention was gratifying, especially because the city is still recovering from the direct hit of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the bridge to Biloxi, cutting it off from visitors.

Now that access is once again easy, diners flock to visit chef Alex Perry and his extraordinary restaurant, Vestige. Along with his wife, Kumi Omori, Perry has created an innovative tasting menu experience that takes advantage of the richness of Gulf seafood.

Sidewalk leading to Vestige Restaurant in Ocean Springs, MS

Vestige is the perfect pit stop after a stroll through quaint downtown Ocean Spring. Picture: Alex Perry

Inspired by the culinary culture of his wife’s native Japan, Perry offers surprisingly beautiful plates of painstakingly prepared seafood bites, presented as a prix-fixe menu of delicious small plates. There is a degree of faith involved in a meal at Vestige, as the chef changes the menu daily based on what inspires him and the most interesting ingredients he can find at local markets.

Chef Alex Perry of Vestige

Chef Alex Perry has been shining the culinary spotlight on his hometown since 2013. Image: Alex Perry

The kitchen focuses on seasonality and sustainability, intentionally purchasing produce that is harvested with an eye on future availability. A typical menu consists of at least five dishes, including bread and dessert dishes prepared by Omori.

Chef Perry is a master of presentation, arranging expertly cut seafood under tongue-tempting sauces and garnished with tiny edible flowers or a dollop of luxurious caviar. They say you dine with your eyes first, so every dish is off to a good start when it hits the table – a little work of art you can eat.

Vestige Calamari, a rural restaurant in Ocean Springs, MS

This squid dish at Vestige will forever spoil you for eating boring fried squid. Picture: Alex Perry

Vestige Golden Tile Plates

Chef Perry’s naturalistic style of cooking and presentation is inspired by his interest in Japanese cuisine. Picture: Alex Perry

Two Oysters from Vestige, a rural restaurant in Ocean Springs, MS

Vestige’s dishes are art you can eat! Picture: Alex Perry

Remnant King Salmon

The thought that goes into the imagination and the creation of a single bite is what sets Vestige above any other restaurant in the area. Picture: Alex Perry

When Chef Perry sneaks in a non-seafood dish, it’s often A5 Japanese wagyu beef, considered the best steak in the world thanks to its extensive marbling and melt-in-the-mouth texture. Savor every bite because you won’t find this beef in your local market or in the best restaurants.

Remnant Mississippi Pork

Chef Perry likes to use flowers to decorate dishes and connect food to nature. Picture: Alex Perry

Best of all, Perry manages to deliver these unique dining experiences at surprisingly affordable prices, based on market prices. Cleverly selecting ingredients that enhance dishes without adding unnecessary extravagance, the chef relies on his cooking skills to elevate his cuisine without breaking the bank. In a small coastal town known for its seafood shacks and po’ boys, Vestige is truly an unexpected treat for locals and visitors alike!

Scarlett Cassidy Cocktail from Vestige, a rural restaurant in Ocean Springs, MS

Floral flourishes are also part of the list of inventive cocktails. Picture: Alex Perry

Enjoy your cooking adventures!

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