Tabella: Meet us at the Big Red Tomato

It’s that time again, no two ways about it. Yep. We are neck deep in the holidays.

From the first fun-sized candy bar in October to the last King Cake in February, we’re all caught up in a whirlwind of rich desserts, road trips, visits with the cousins from out of town, shopping and merry-making in general.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle, we find ourselves craving a cozy spot to gather with family and friends (the ones who promise not to talk about politics until we’re done digesting!), press pause, and share a delicious meal. 

Psst… We know a place!

If you’ve driven down Hardy Street in the past half-decade or so, you already know how to find Tabella. Just head to the heart of Midtown and look for the big red tomato.

Like a homing beacon for folks in search of a good meal, the big red tomato draws you in to one of Hattiesburg’s most comfortable, welcoming dining rooms.

Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, Tabella has served scratch-made Italian fare perfect for sharing since March 2011.

Push through the wide double doors and pass through the paneled entry to enter the spacious dining room.

Warm light bounces off of the polished copper pots and sparkling wine bottles that line the walls. Deep benches and comfortable chairs flank large, family-style tables and invite you to share.

Sharing, of course, is not only allowed at Tabella, but also encouraged. It’s built into their system.

 

Gather to Share
Tables at Tabella are set with classic red and white checkered napkins, and a pile of small plates for sharing appetizers and – such a treat! – warm, fresh-baked focaccia, served alongside a generous pour of peppery, bright green olive oil for dipping.

Tear into the chewy, herb-flecked bread, give it a generous dip in the olive oil, and pass the plate to your dining companions. If you’ve ordered a bottle of wine to share, you are doing it right.

Or maybe you favor something that packs a bit more punch? If so, try an Italian Mule. This vodka-based drink sparkles with fresh citrus juice and spicy ginger beer. It’s festive and bright and sure to chase away the cold-weather blues.

 

For Starters
Regardless of your drink choices, you should definitely make the most of the appetizer menu at Tabella.

Ranging from tried-and-true favorites like fried zucchini and handmade fried mozzarella to creative offerings like White Bean Hummus and Italian Nachos (those are next on our To-Eat list. Parmesan potato chips topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce? We are so down), these shareable apps offer something for everyone.

Put the Italian Shrimp and Grits right at the tippy top of YOUR To-Eat list, and prepare to have your socks knocked off.

In place of traditional grits, Tabella starts this dish with browned triangles of creamy polenta. These are crowned with a generous portion of plump, sweet Gulf shrimp and LOADS of other goodies.

Caramelized onions tangle with roasted red peppers. Shaved parmesan and crispy bits of pancetta add salty, rich flavor.

The whole lot is napped with a light butter sauce. Every component of this dish is delicious on its own, but together they make up one of the tastiest dishes in Hattiesburg.

This is a great start to a meal when shared with the table, but – and this is professional advice – add a side salad (or any of Tabella’s other tantalizing vegetable sides, or even a cup of soup), and you’ve got a fine meal to savor all on your own.

Side note: A To-Eat list is a thing, right? We aren’t the only ones who have a To-Eat list, are we?

 

Pastas and more
Now, like any Italian restaurant worth its salt, Tabella knows how to do the classics. Their Eggplant Parmesan, Chicken Picatta and Vegetable Lasagna are all faithful and tasty renditions of these menu classics.

Likewise, they know their way around a bowl of pasta. Shrimp Tabella is a personal favorite. Gulf shrimp and penne in a creamy basil pesto alfredo is one of our love languages. Their spaghetti and meatballs are comfort in a bowl.

But you know what Tabella really gets right? Fish.

Now what you were expecting us to say? Well, it’s true!

Take their redfish special, for instance. This perfectly-cooked filet arrives at your table moist and dressed with a delicately-flavored sun-dried tomato beurre blanc, a sauce made from gently melted butter and everything right in the world.

The redfish flakes beautifully and the sauce is velvety and flavorful,  but highlights the fresh flavor of the fish instead of overpowering it.

With a side of their rosemary romano roasted potatoes and garlic green beans, you’ve got a fine meal on your plate. Go ahead and mop up the extra sauce with those golden chunks of potato to make the most of every last bite.

Tabella rotates specials frequently, and the best get elevated to the full menu.

This was the case for their Grilled Salmon with Brussels Sprouts.

Your new favorite entree features a generous portion of fresh salmon, grilled to medium. It’s tender and flavorful atop a tangle of finely-shredded brussels sprouts.

Tabella’s crew flash sautees the brussels sprouts until  brown and crisp in some spots and still fresh and crunchy in others. Salty bits of pancetta flecked throughout stand up to the strong flavor of the sprouts and really make the dish sing.

It’s simple, but hauntingly flavorful. We’ve been thinking about it all week!

 

Save room!
The best reason to share your food with your dining companions at Tabella? You want to save room for dessert!

At this point you’re probably full, happy, and just want a little something sweet – but not too sweet – that won’t put your directly into a post-meal coma. 

Tabella’s tiramisu checks those boxes.

It features light, barely-sweet lady fingers, soaked in a coffee liqueur and layered with a lush mascarpone cream. The dish is crowned with some fancy chocolate work and will have you vying for the last bite.

So if you find yourself feeling frazzled this holiday season, round up some friends and family, press pause on the mayhem, and meet up under the big red tomato.­

A leisurely meal at Tabella will leave you feeling nourished and relaxed, and just might revive your holiday spirit.

  Long-time Hattiesburg residents Jason and Autumn Perry have done their time in local kitchens. Jason started the menu at T-Bones and is currently in the kitchen at the Keg and Barrel. Autumn and Jason created the menu at the Thirsty Hippo and are excited to work together again on Signature restaurant features.

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