Posted on | January 1, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
Dusty Frierson, Purple Parrot Café. Hattiesburg, Mississippi
About two hours outside of New Orleans, arguably one of the nation’s foremost cocktail destinations, is Hattiesburg, home of the University of Southern Mississippi, and where you’ll find the Purple Parrot Café, part of chef Robert St. John’s New South Restaurant Group, which also encompasses Crescent City Grill, Tabella, Mahogany Bar and the forthcoming Branch, devoted solely to serving spirits. Purple Parrot’s general manager and wine director, Dusty Frierson, is making Hattiesburg a worthy tippling detour en route to the Big Easy.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Your background is primarily in wine. What turned you on to cocktails and beer, too?
DUSTY FRIERSON: I’d been a wine director and sommelier for a number of years, overseeing nearly a thousand labels for the company. Sometimes, you start looking for other fun stuff to do. About five years ago I really got into the cocktail scene and traveled to explore the trends. The Purple Parrot is not any one thing, and that plays in our favor: we’re not just a beer bar, a wine bar or a cocktail bar.
TBN: What do you think makes your cocktail program stand out now?
DF: A couple of years ago, I was introducing cocktails to the list and my bartenders said they were too out there. And now it’s the opposite: they are saying we can be more adventurous. Recently, I was really into making infusions with the restaurant’s immersion circulator. We’re still riding the trend of bacon cocktails, infusing bourbon with Benton’s bacon. Our list skews towards more boozy, stirred cocktails and features bitters that were once outside the norm, like Aperol and Cynar. The Morning Call, for example, is bourbon with coffee-infused Cynar. And The Sour and the Glory—I’m a Graham Greene fan—has bourbon, bitters and strawberry basil shrub.
TBN: You make your own shrubs?
DF: We make a whole line of drinking vinegars here, like one with hops and ruby red grapefruit. They are great for non-alcoholic drinks, too, which are becoming more important to cocktail lists.
TBN: It remains challenging in big cities to get customers to delve beyond their comfort zone. So, in Mississippi, is it even harder getting your guests to embrace a beverage menu unlike any other they will find locally?
DF: I would say it’s new for most people. Some will send back a drink and say it’s too bitter; they don’t know what Campari is when they order it. But for every one of those, we have 15 customers who think what we are doing is cool. We are in a college town, so people are looking for something different. It’s up to us as bartenders to create a bond of trust with our guests so for their next drink, or their next time in, we can push the limits. If people are used to sweetness we need to take baby steps to get them to move past that. But cocktail sales are up; we’re selling more and more.
TBN: And a lot of that has to do with your staff being so well educated-when it comes to beer, too.
DF: Our goal is by the end of January to have our entire bar staff be at least first level certified cicerones. We feel that it is going to make us better, and push our beer knowledge and sales. Some of those guys will then go on to the next level.
TBN: Your beer program seems to be just as bold. You’re even serving it in a French press.
DF: We have around 120 beers, but our draft selection is small, about a dozen, on purpose. We like to keep things moving and as fresh as possible. Lazy Magnolia, a local brewery in Kiln, is doing really well here. Now that we can sell high-gravity beers in this state, their Timber Beast Rye Double IPA is quite popular. It’s nice for us to be ahead of the curve. And yes, we are doing something different by putting beer into a French press and letting it infuse with hops and pouring it tableside. I want people who are passing through Hattiesburg to New Orleans to hopefully discover a gem here.