The Carriage House Restaurant in Natchez has been around since 1946, but about six years ago this old standby got turned on its head. That’s when Chef Bingo Starr took over. He brought to this table a Culinary Institute of America education and more than 15 years of experience in the New Orleans food scene, including a stint with Chef Emeril Lagasse.
Starr could have done well just by offering a NOLA experience for his customers, but instead he presented a gumbo of Creole and Deep South cuisine that has gotten wow reviews. He realized back then what the world is waking up to today—the realization that Southern food is a lot more than biscuits and gravy and is, in fact, a culinary tradition that stands tall with any other food tradition in the world.
He kept his New Orleans roots solid, but toned done the complexity, not over saucing and keeping it as simple and clean as he could. There’s still fried chicken on the menu, but it is presented with mashed potatoes and greens, cunningly served in small glass jars (you’ve just got to think of Grandma’s canning) a clear glass plate and garnished with bright orange julienned carrots and popping red peppers. And the chicken is really, really good.
Perhaps one of his best efforts is a small plate of fried oysters. Most places make quick work of this seafood favorite and think little of presentation and properly matching crisp and succulent mollusks with anything other than a tartar sauce. Chef Starr nails this one with a centerpiece of tomato aspic, mixed greens, a killer homemade corn chow-chow, and green onion dressing. It is hard to find a combination that is better suited and more delicious for salty oysters.
Another dish that rings the bell of excellence—and one just might think there is a bit of humor intended here—is the fried pork skins ingeniously paired with pimiento and cheese and pickled okra. This dish just works on so many levels; it certainly harks back to the sandwich most true Southerners grew up with. The crispy house-made pork rinds make the perfect dipping tool, and the pickled okra adds a tart counterpoint that is nothing short of inspiring.
Overall, the menu is well put together. It’s simple but touches all the bases from soup to burgers and sandwiches, but the special touches, like the ones mentioned above, really round out the selection and bring a level of excellence. The dessert menu is only six selections strong, but one look at the Key Lime Crème Brulee served with a white chocolate macadamia cookie and you’ll see that six is just enough.
Chef Bingo Starr represents the best of what is going on in the restaurant kitchens of Mississippi; it’s innovative, crisp, and clean and still relies heavily on Southern tradition. This is fine dining, but where else will you find a grilled bologna sandwich on a white-tablecloth menu? Put this restaurant on your must-visit list.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The Carriage House Restaurant
401 High St., Natchez
601.445.5151 or www.stantonhall.com/carriagehouse.htm
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.