The Mockingbird Café is always one of the first stops for people visiting Bay St. Louis. Usually they were commanded by some friendly local to go there. Or they may have read about the Mockingbird in Southern Living (it’s been featured there several times) or some other national publication.
Visitors can always find interesting locals willing to converse in the lively café. On any given day, you’re likely to find college students who have stumbled on the Bay during their travels, scientists who work at Stennis Space Center, day-trippers from New Orleans and beyond, kids from the nearby schools and lots of artists and writers. The mix of people is as irresistible as the food and beverages served up by smiling baristas. The Mockingbird’s affectionate nickname is “The Town’s Living Room,” and it is.
The owner is best known as Alicein Wonderland, which are her real first and middle names ("hippie parents, you know"). The fairy tale name suits her effervescent personality, which has an underpinning of steely determination. She needed it after Katrina, when as a new mother, she and her former husband opened the café in 2006 - in the midst of the carnage left by the storm.
“There was a need for a gathering place for the town to heal, a loving and hopeful spot,” Alicein says.
Alicein, who grew up in Bay St. Louis, has traveled “far and wide,” and believes this has impacted her worldview. And along the way, she’s always gathering ideas to improve the Mockingbird. Which is hardly “just” a coffeehouse. It’s also an art gallery, featuring local artistic icons like J.J. Foley and Kat Fitzpatrick. And it’s a music venue, featuring some top quality artists, as well as locals who gather for open mike nights.
“We’ve been fortunate to get bigger name performers on their way to places like the House of Blues in New Orleans. In musician circles, we’ve become known as a homey spot to perform, since our audiences are always welcoming and receptive.”
In the past year, with chef Julie Ragusa coming aboard, the kitchen is bursting with fresh ideas and the menu is leaning heavily toward farm-to-table dishes. Ragusa worked as a chef and a chocolatier in Belgium for many years, so the confections coming out of the kitchen are gourmet quality. In addition to the “world-famous Mockingburger,” fresh sandwiches and scrumptious breakfasts, look for crème brulet, Café Vienna muffins, Lemon Feta Shortbread cookies and chocolate mousse. You can order up every kind of beverage from an expresso to a locally brewed craft beer.
The town’s living room also serves as a starting point for a running club on Thursday nights, just another example of how this business has become a central part of the community
“We’re all pieces of the big puzzle, working to make our town loved and successful,” says Alicein. “Our philosophy at the Mockingbird is that kindness is the most important thing.”