Photo: Aunt Dolores as a teenager in my grandparents' front yard (circa 1950). The road leading to the old bridge is visible in the background.
Geographically, the city of Biloxi is a peninsula with Point Cadet at its very eastern tip.
Today, we don’t think too much about getting from Biloxi and to our neighboring communities “across the bay” – unless a hurricane or a tug boat takes out one of our many bridges.
However, in my nona's youth there was no easy way to get from Point Cadet to Ocean Springs. You either took a boat or went six miles out of your way to cross the Back Bay Bridge which connected Biloxi to D’Iberville. Then the bridge connecting Biloxi with Ocean Springs was dedicated in June 1930.
On the Biloxi side, the bridge let out just west of my grandparents’ front yard on East Howard Avenue. On nice evenings, the family would sit out on their front screened porch and count the cars coming across the bridge and read their licence plates to see where people were traveling from. Sometimes you forget how simple life used to be.
A few years after the bridge opened, my grandmother’s cousin Vincent “Vitsie” Rosetti (not to be confused with her brother Vincent “Vitsie” Rosetti”) opened a small café on Howard where weary travelers could rest and get a bite to eat. Rosetti’s café was a hit with travelers and locals alike, famous for its seafood, plate lunches and their wonderful po-boys, especially a crabmeat and cheese number known as the Vancleave Special.
The sandwich reportedly was invented by C.L. “Kip” Dees of Vancleave in 1947. Vitsie liked Kip’s idea of adding cheese to the regular crabmeat po-boy so well, he added it to the menu. At $1.75 it was reportedly the most expensive item on the menu.
As teenagers, my mom and her friends rode bikes across the bridge to hang out in Ocean Springs, drink Orange Crushes and flirt with boys they hadn’t known since the cradle.
The bridge was not all fun and adventure. In 1959, a sleepy driver crossed the bridge’s lane divider and crashed head on into the car driven by my Uncle Raymond’s new bride. Thankfully, she survived the crash, though it took a while to recover from her injuries.
In the early 1960s, a new bridge was built just to the east that routed traffic directly onto Highway 90 rather than Howard Avenue. The old bridge became a fishing pier. During my childhood, my cousins and I treated it as our personal playground. We fished and crabbed off its sides. We participated in the Junior Fishing rodeos held there. Sometimes, when nona and grandpa’s house just seemed too full of relatives, we went on long walks and dared each other to spit over the side on windy days. Go ahead and try it. You’ll only do it once.
Hurricane Katrina dealt the final blow to the old bridge rendering it unusable.
On days when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I daydream about the time when people all the way from Vancleave crossed that bridge just to have a crabmeat and cheese po-boy from Rosetti’s. And I head to the kitchen. I prefer Monterey Jack or provolone to the customary American cheese. Since I live in Hattiesburg these days, I guess you could call this the Hattiesburg Special.
Crabmeat and Cheese Po-Boy
Crabmeat patties (use the stuffed crab recipe from my Aug. 30, 2009 post (Crabbing: A Saltwater Sport for the Uncoordinated but add a well-beaten egg to the crabmeat and bread mixture to help it hold together better.)
2-3 pieces of cheese (American is traditional, but use whatever kind you like. I like Monterey Jack).
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Mayo and mustard, sliced pickles if you like
Make crabmeat stuffing and shape into patties. For po-boys you want these patties more oblong and a little thinner than you would make for crab cake. Dust patties in flour and saute on both sides in a mixture of butter and olive oil until browned and crispy on both sides. Drain on paper towel.
Cut a third (or a half depending how hungry you are) off a whole loaf of French bread. Cut the hunk in half. Grill the halves, sliced side down in melted butter just until toasted. Spread with mustard/mayo as you like, put crab patties on one side top with 2 slices of cheese and shredded lettuce and tomato. Top with other slice of bread and put the the sandwich back on the grill and top with a heavy skillet or grill press until the sandwich is toasted on top and pressed flat and cheese is melted.