Coast Cuisine - April 2021
- Story by Lisa Monti
Even before Thorny Oyster opened inside the new Pearl Hotel, people were anticipating something new and different and good at the corner of Beach and Main.
It’s still new enough that staff training was underway on a recent Thursday evening, but it’s been open long enough that two of the three in our party had already eaten there.
We walked in around 5:30 pm and were seated in a spot at the end of the bar and near the door leading to the hotel’s cozy lobby. It wasn’t long before other tables and barstools filled up, and the quiet atmosphere sounded more like a summer weekend.
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The space is nicely decorated – check out the lighting – and as Instagrammable as you would expect, given its boutique hotel setting. There is a touch of déjà vu if you’ve enjoyed eating at Chef Jeffrey Hansell’s Oxlot 9 in the Southern Hotel in Covington. The chef grew up here and has brought some of the same dishes to the Thorny Oyster.
Large windows facing Beach Boulevard and Main Street made for good people-watching, as the evening drew couples and families out to the collection of bars and restaurants open downtown.
Thorny Oyster’s menu begins with raw bar selections such as the popular local oysters, smoked fish dip and crab claws, plus an unexpected Hamachi Crudo (olive oil, Yuzu, grapefruit).
For those in a generous celebratory mood, there is the Seafood Plateau at $70 that runs the table on the raw bar menu: a dozen oysters, fish dip, crab claws, lobster salad, ceviche, a pound of royal reds and another pound of snow crab. It comes in a half-size, too, at $30, and it’s bound to be an Instagram hit.
Soups and salads include a generous wedge ($12) with cucumber, tomatoes and bacon that is easily sharable. Also on this short list are a not-too-common Lobster Bisque with a dash of brandy ($15) and Frisee with Duck Confit and Duck Fat Dressing ($15).
There are 11 appetizer choices listed “For the Table,” a mix of traditional dishes (Grilled Gulf Oysters and BBQ Shrimp) and the unusual (Mussels & Fries, Middleneck Clams, Roasted Bone Marrow and Pork Rillettes).
We shared frog legs ($15) served in hot sauce butter, a favorite from Oxlot 9’s menu, with just the right fried crispness and a spice kick. The large BBQ shrimp ($13) came sauced with lemon, Worcestershire and cracked black pepper plus grilled bread for dipping.
The six items listed as Plates is tilted toward seafood with a nod to poultry and beef. The Red Snapper Almandine ($28) with brown butter and toasted almonds served over baby bok choy was the “I’m getting that next time” dish at the table.
The roasted fish ($27), served head-to-tail whole, wasn’t a local variety but was definitely photo-worthy. Dressed with a delicious charred green tomato salsa verde, shallots and herbs, the fish’s white meat came out smoking-hot from under the crisped skin. Sauces are definitely one of the restaurant’s strong suits.
There is more on the menu if you’re craving the comfort of a burger ($18) or the special treat of a Lobster Roll ($21), another dish not usually found in our local seafood restaurants. There are a few sides, too, and of course dessert, headed up by the best-named World’s Best Chocolate Pudding ($12).
The restaurant serves several wines by the glass or bottle and has a menu of interesting craft cocktails to go along with your meal and your mood.
Fun fact: There really is such a thing as a thorny oyster in the mollusk family. It gets its name from quills that grow from their shells to protect them from predators. The colorful shells are said to be favored by Native American artisans for their fine jewelry pieces.
Thorny Oyster and Smoke, the new barbecue restaurant also in the Pearl, are part of Hansell Hospitality.
104 North Beach Blvd., Bay St. Louis
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 - 10 pm