A seafood lover’s dream, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House draws guests from across the globe for its stately Southern charm, fascinating history and fresh Gulf delicacies.
Bob Mahoney Jr., the son of the famous founder, would take the muddy Gulf Coast waters over crystal clear blue water any day. That’s because this region produces a plethora of fresh seafood – the backbone of the restaurant’s menu.
“We are blessed here on the Gulf Coast,” he says. “Our seafood is second to none worldwide.”
Named after the colorful founder, Mary Mahoney, the landmark Biloxi restaurant opened in 1964 inside a historic home that dates back to 1737 – predating American Independence by three decades. Built by French colonist Louis Frasier, the stately and French-inspired property is one of the oldest homes in Biloxi and sits a block from the waterfront. The renowned restaurant has survived three hurricanes – Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005.
For more than 50 years, Mary Mahoney’s has been a must-see stop for visitors traveling to Biloxi, including U.S. presidents, sports stars and celebrities. Framed photos of famous guests line the walls, including Elvis Presley, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, author John Grisham, President Jimmy Carter, chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paula Deen, and the Manning family.
“A restaurant is all about atmosphere, and we have about three or four different types of atmosphere here,” says Bob, who greets customers and regales them with jokes and stories about famous guests.
Mary Mahoney’s delivers an elegant and upscale dining experience, complete with white linen tablecloths and waiters in jackets, for a party of two, 10, 50 or even 100. It’s also a popular venue for locals celebrating special events, wedding receptions and private parties, with the capacity to seat and serve 400 people in various dining rooms.
The historic home features exposed brick walls, heart-pine floors, open fireplaces, high ceilings, authentic artwork, a sunroom, intimate enclaves, cozy bars and a brick-walled wine cellar. Outside, guests can dine in a terraced, ivy-lined courtyard under a 2,000-year-old oak tree.
“A lot of people feel they get a taste of New Orleans when they step into the courtyard,” says Vincent Creel, Biloxi’s public affairs manager.
The restaurant offers both a taste of New Orleans and Gulf Coast cuisine, along with steaks, lamb chops, veal and more. Known for its world-famous seafood gumbo, Mary Mahoney’s features signatures dishes with shrimp, lobster, snapper, lump crabmeat and crawfish étouffée.
The menu includes a Presidential Platter of crab claws and petite soft-shell crabs, Southern staples including fried green tomatoes with crabmeat and crawfish, and Mary Mahoney’s famous bread pudding with rum sauce.
Born in 1924, Mary Mahoney frequently read about food, music, art and fashion in Sunday’s The New York Times magazine and “had a doctorate in social endeavors,” Bob says.
She got her start in hospitality in the 1950s, managing the lounge at Biloxi’s Tivoli Hotel. When a new owner took over and kicked her out, Mahoney set out to chart her own course as a female restaurateur in the Gulf Coast city. She wanted to open a bar, but the city council said she had to serve food, too.
“Ultimately, it was the best thing,” Bob says. “He kicked her out of that little lounge and kicked her into a 400-seat restaurant.”
Mahoney, with her husband, Robert, and her brother, Andrew Cvitanovich, purchased the historic home and transformed it into one of the region’s most unique restaurants.
“Mary Mahoney’s is a Biloxi institution,” Creel says. “There used to be – and still is – a saying that holds true in many respects: ‘You have not been to Biloxi until you have been to Mary Mahoney’s.’”
Until Mary’s death in December 1985, she served as a tireless ambassador for the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. She was named Mississippi’s small business person of the year in 1982 and the first female president of the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce in 1985.
At 72 years old, Bob still manages the front of the house, while his cousin Tony handles kitchen operations and other relatives help keep the restaurant a family tradition. Similar to his mother, Bob never tires of entertaining or making customers laugh, including on clever TV commercials that bring in tourists.
Mary never had any new customers or old customers; they were either new friends or old friends, Bob says.
“She loved taking care of people, and she loved changing the perception of what people in other parts of the country thought of people in Mississippi,” he says.
Mary Mahoney’s Old French House
110 Rue Magnolia, Biloxi
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday