By Heather Gausline Tate | Photography courtesy of Coast Observer, coastobserver.virtualpaper.com
Huck’s Cove on the Gulf Coast offers a dining experience to be savored in a light-hearted, family friendly atmosphere.
Huck’s Cove in Gautier, Mississippi is a waterfront diamond in the rough. As the 19-year owner of the self-proclaimed dive, Jo Ann Woroner, describes her establishment as family-friendly with a laid-back vibe and tons of personality. “We would not call ourselves ‘shabby chic’,” Woroner explains, but she says the funky atmosphere invokes their lighthearted ambiance. Moss-covered oaks and outdoor strings of lights adorn the outdoor eating areas. Even a lazy gator or two may be swimming nearby in the bayou.
Despite the casual atmosphere, Huck’s Cove take its food very seriously. The proprietor suggests, “We like to go with things that are different.” Featured starters such as fried dill pickles, heaping plates of covered nachos, and heavily-crusted fried green tomatoes kick off the diverse menu. Specialties include fried gator tail, fried crawfish (where the shell has been removed), and some of the best grouper anywhere – prepared grilled, fried, blackened, or with the signature Buffalo seasoning. Daily specials provide something for everyone. Whether patrons prefer Taco Tuesday, Angry Bird Wednesday (a zesty chicken dish), Thursday’s $5 burger day, or Friday’s pasta special. “We try to cover it all without spreading ourselves too thin,” says Woroner.
Huck’s is known for its gourmet burgers, such as the Burgerletta, a take-off of the Muffuletta, a hamburger with cheese and olives. Other popular selections include the Huck-attack and the Hurricane Cat 6 – covered with debris – which just means every topping that they have in house from caramelized onions to cheeses and veggies.
First time visitors should try the grouper blackened, according to owner Woroner, who also recommends the fried oysters or seasonal raw oysters. She says they have so many things that guests need to try: “If you haven’t had gator tail, you got to try it at Huck’s because we know how to make it.” Other options include more seafood, all from a local seafood company, po’boy sandwiches, and a variety of salads that can be washed down with a Long Island ice tea or the Huckie, their signature mixed drink that is fruit punch with a kick.
Although it may seem hard to save room, Woroner says that diners need to have one of their many desserts. Her personal favorite is key lime pie, but other mouth-watering options include the salted caramel cheesecake drizzled with extra caramel and served with whipped cream or the death by chocolate made with four layers of chocolate bliss.
Both indoor and outdoor seating is available in the tropical, Caribbean-atmosphere including teal, purple, and yellow hues throughout. Huck’s Cove brought bright colors to the Gulf Coast, which had become accustomed to more dark, muted color schemes in its local restaurants. Woroner and her husband had traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and were influenced by the vibrant colors. The major portion of the seating is outdoor on the waterfront where there is a non-smoking section by the dock, near a shack with seating, lattice work, and pops of teal-pained benches and railings.
“The children love Huck’s,” says Woroner. Some of the former young patrons are now older college students who work at Huck’s, especially during their peak season from March-September.
Woroner says that Huck’s Cove is her first and only restaurant venture. She explains that she has always had the drive to be in business on her own. Combined with a love for eating and crunching numbers, becoming a restaurant owner has been a solid fit for her. Part of her secret has been finding the right people to work for her. Woroner works closely with her managers and meets with their staff regularly.
Her other secret for owning a coastal restaurant is preparing her staff and working with the weather. Hurricane Katrina closed them for six months after they were flooded with 18 feet of water. “My husband and I worked every day for six months to repair it.” When it opened six months after the hurricane, they were the first restaurant open at the time. The determination to rebuild after Katrina and every storm since then deepens their bond with their regulars.
Woroner says that they want their customers to come and enjoy themselves along with the view. Her goal is to provide their guests with “a nice product and something that they haven’t had.” Special orders do not upset the kitchen. Woroner proudly clarifies, “If we have it in the kitchen somewhere, we can do it.” Everything in the small kitchen is cooked to order. Nothing is pre-cooked. During the week, business is steady, but on the weekends, the clientele come out in droves. One does not come to Huck’s to rush through a meal. Instead, it is meant to be savored with lots of laughter among family, friends, and work buddies.
“We are a mom-and-pop place,” says Woroner. Huck’s Cove continues to offer a unique dining opportunity that has been embraced by the community and now pursued by patrons from all over the South who want to experience it for themselves.