Mississippi master of the culinary arts, Robert St. John, is painting a new picture for Hattiesburg’s restaurant scene after 25 years and is “branching out” with a destination spot focused on the artful craft of the cocktail and a wine list that will rival any other in the region.
Spirits will rise at the newly opened Branch, which refers to the South’s beloved ‘Bourbon & Branch,’ but in a clever double entendre, it can also be taken to mean the ‘branch,’ or outlet -- Robert St. John’s newest entity within the New South Restaurant Group, anchored by his illustrious Purple Parrot Café.
Among the 130 Bourbons and Ryes, some are single-barrel bourbons hand-picked right at the distillery in Kentucky. Whether it’s Four Roses barrel-strength, a Willet 117.6 proof, or an Evan Williams 10-year, these hand-selected bourbons are decanted into bottles bearing Robert St. John’s private label. The cocktails are practically culinary items of their own, involving the level of ingredients, time, and precision demanded by any great dish. A 10-Point Scale rating each drink from “Sweet to Bitter” and “Spiritous to Refreshing,” gives patrons a basis for making educated decisions about their order. An encyclopedia of classic drinks, as well as a rotating menu of up to a dozen ambitious, artisanal libations will be available including the Atticus Finch with Bourbon, Campari, Luxardo Maraschino, and Salt Tincture; the Card Cheat with Rittenhouse Rye, House-made Kumquat and Mint Shrub, and Demerara, Phosphate Soda; and the Derby Day in Mexico with Hornitos Reposado Tequila, Smoked Agave Nectar, Mint, and an Illegal Mezcal Float.
The musical genre at Branch, now enjoying a new vogue thanks to St. John’s preference for vinyl, is strictly turntable. With over 1,800 albums ready to spin from his personal collection, the music will range from rock to ‘60s classics and the latest pop on the charts.
The décor is a combination of high tables, standard tables, and low sofa-reach tables that accommodates guests in any mood to stand, sit, or lounge. The sleek, low-slung couches are tailored in shades of grey, and the seating is punctuated by club chairs of a similar boxy mid-century profile, upholstered in a cheerful red. The lighting makes use of candles as well as the incandescent bulbs exploding from the ceiling, casting an amber glow. The vast space is paneled all-over with vintage wood that gleams in rich shades of golden browns, and bourbon barrel woods dress the doors, adding to the evocative layers of the cocktail décor.
The Purple Parrot chef Jeremy Knoffke’s tasting menu will be available at Branch, as well as a menu all its own: a wide range of small, playful plates designed to complement beer, wine, and, of course, cocktails. Each of these menu items allows patrons to take charge of their own pairing, and “branch out,” into what may be unfamiliar territory.