Dusty Frierson, Purple Parrot Café,
By alia akkam
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 Restau-
rant Group, which also encompasses
Crescent City Grill, Tabella, Mahogany
Bar and the forthcoming Branch, de-
voted 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:
background is primarily in wine.
What turned you on to cocktails
and beer, too?
I’d been a wine
director and sommelier for a number of
years, overseeing nearly a thousand la-
bels 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.
What do you think makes your
cocktail program stand out now?
A couple of years ago, I was intro-
ducing cocktails to the list and my bar-
tenders 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, in-
fusing 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.
You make your own shrubs?
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 be-
coming more important to cocktail lists.
It remains challenging in big cit-
ies 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?
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 look-
ing 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.
And a lot of that has to do with
your staff being so well educated-
when it comes to beer, too.
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.
Your beer program seems to
be just as bold. You’re even serving
it in a French press.
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 do-
ing 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 some-
thing 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 Hat-
tiesburg to New Orleans to hopefully
discover a gem here.