Food Feature: The South's sure bet

Blackjack, big hair and all-you-can-eat buffets keep tourists entertained in Biloxi

With visions of Vegas filling our heads, my friend Adam and I jumped in my car last Saturday and journeyed to Biloxi. Neither of us had visited the self-proclaimed "gaming capital of the South" before, and we were ready to wager our newly cashed paychecks.

The plan was to drive to the Gulf Coast town, hit the gaming tables and partake in a casino buffet before heading back to Buckhead. After four hours on the road, we realized our destination was farther than anticipated and started making cell phone calls to secure a room for the night. Last-minute accommodations are difficult on weekends, but I managed to book a double occupancy room at Imperial Palace for only $99.

Just as the trip odometer rolled to mile 400 we arrived in Biloxi. Imperial Palace is visible from the Interstate and we easily found our way to the 32-floor bayside attraction. Pulling in, we made note of a neighboring 24-hour pawnshop in case we had the need for additional green.

Tired from the road trip, we went straight up to our room to rest and have a beverage. The faux Asian decor wasn't luxurious, but it was tidy and certainly better than the backseat of my Camry. The room didn't have a mini-bar so our respite was brief, and after Adam donned his lucky pants, we headed for the casino.

The Far Eastern theme was evident throughout the hotel and we ordered drinks from a kimono-clad cocktail waitress before touring the hotel's tri-level entertainment complex. In addition to multiple restaurants and nightclubs, we also discovered a full-service spa, a six-screen movie theater and an antique car collection.

We chose to bypass those attractions and play the slot machines. The monotony of the game made Adam's eye wander to a couple of big-haired babes seated next to us. He soon realized the sluts, I mean, slots weren't going to pay out and we proceeded to the gaming tables. The casino offers craps, roulette and poker, but Adam and I were interested in playing blackjack.

Joining a group of inebriated shrimp fisherman who had just ended a multi-day stint (think The Perfect Storm), we settled in at a $5 minimum table to test our luck at 21. I lost almost every hand, while Adam's system of progressive betting amassed an impressive pile of chips. By 3 a.m., he had $450 in winnings and I suggested we call it a night. Oh, but how the casino's trick of thrusting free drinks upon the clientele had worked and the 10 complimentary beers Adam had imbibed made him insist he was invincible. I finally got him to hand over $200 for safekeeping and left him with the remainder. I went to our room and only 10 minutes later, I heard an electronic card key in the door. Adam entered drunk and dejected, with the pockets of his lucky pants totally empty.

The next morning we said sayonara to Imperial Palace and went to explore other casinos. Our first Sunday stop was Casino Magic, and we found the gaming floor buzzing. Suffering from high-roller-hangover, we bypassed the crowded card tables and opted for the Champagne Brunch Buffet at the hotel's Pier 4 restaurant. Fresh seafood was the main attraction and the meal was well worth the $25 per person price. An array of shrimp, crab and fish dishes were served along with gourmet cheese, tropical fruit and just-baked desserts.

Although shuttle service is available between Casino Magic and most of the other resorts, we hopped back in the car and moved down the road to Beau Rivage. We had heard this hotel was the most luxurious and Vegas-like resort in Biloxi, and from the moment we pulled up to the curbside valet we saw why it has this reputation. An elaborate tile mosaic is the focal point of the main lobby. Richly detailed fabrics and carpeting cover the casino interior. After taking in the posh surroundings, we cursed the bland digs we'd been in the night before, but knew these rooms cost considerably more than our reasonable rate.

Adam was feeling rejuvenated by the Gulf Coast seafood, and he took the $200 that I rescued from him the night before and settled in at a blackjack table to regain his gambling glory. The $80 I'd already been relieved of was enough of a loss, so I chose to browse the high-end retail stores (David Yurman, DKNY, Bellini) lining the Beau Rivage lobby.

At 4 p.m., I headed back to the gaming floor. We had a long drive ahead and it was time to drag Adam away from the croupier. This wasn't as difficult as I anticipated. When I arrived at the blackjack table he had only three measly $5 chips left and was more than ready to make an exit. With our dreams of riches now in the hands of "the house," we gathered our empty wallets and headed back to Atlanta.


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