I've always enjoyed spending time in Gulfport, but the addition of two new businesses has made it a surprisingly regular destination for me.
The first, Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli, is an improbable success, garnering praise and repeat visits from omnivores and herbivores alike, all eager to crunch down on a pressed pastrami sandwich — the wheat gluten-based "meat" is made in-house — or enjoy a dairy-free version and satisfyingly faithful version of a Tarpon Springs-style Greek salad.
The second, which I've only visited once but that threatens to make it twice by the time this column runs, is Vintage Small Bites and Wine Lounge, an impossibly quaint wine bar in an impossibly quaint town.
Oh, and the omnivorous menu just happens to contain several novel vegan options.
I intentionally shy away from food in this column — not my beat, and the person whose beat it is happens to be very good at it — but Vintage Small Bites and Wine Lounge has forced my hand by serving what I honestly think might be the best vegan mac and cheese I've ever had (ingredients: "love and secrets," according to our server).
You certainly can't blame me for getting a little excited about this food. When I went vegan 20 years ago, I had to attempt making veggie burgers in the kitchen with soggy blocks of barely firm tofu, because restaurant options were of the steamed broccoli and a side salad variety. I became a decent cook largely out of necessity.
Fast forward to Gulfport in 2019, and I'm washing down house-made vegan caviar and truffle-infused non-dairy cheese with a nice pinot noir from a winery called Portlandia, which I'm fully aware sets up a punchline at my expense.
So you'll excuse me for savoring the moment for a few paragraphs. It helps that Vintage has made it easy for me, not just in terms of food and wine, but in terms of atmosphere.
Tucked away in the back of Gulfport's Art Village Courtyard, Vintage occupies the bottom level of a funky, turquoise-painted shop.
The entire interior would fit into your average commercial kitchen, with enough seats to accommodate four or six comfortably, with any more constituting a bonafide crowd.
Low ceilings with hanging wine glasses and a narrow walkway between the barstools and bench seating along the wall sounds claustrophobic on paper, but it's actually quite nice and cozy, if you can get a seat. More likely, you'll grab one on the patio, where café two-seaters sit beneath hanging potted plants and herbs, and a shaded lounge area with outdoor space heaters and a fire pit overlook the Art Village Courtyard and its center stage.
There are a couple of beers on tap, like Full Sail IPA (which is an uncommon find nowadays), but the atmosphere at Vintage is unarguably one that is conducive to wine drinking. For a place this small, a menu of more than 40 wines is impressive, especially when you can order nearly half of them by the glass.
The list is an international affair, with all the favorites — France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Germany, Washington, California — and there's plenty of variety, as you might expect from 40-plus options. There's even house-made sangria, produced with a mix of red and sparkling wines and fresh fruit.
I have to commend the price points. A boutique wine bar like this wouldn't be out of line serving hefty prices with its vegan caviar, but everything is in the $6 to $11 range, and that's not even accounting for the late-night happy hour, which comes with 25 percent off all wines by the glass after 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
So what we end up with is a small wine bar that's conspicuously pleasant, even by Gulfport standards, serving an excellent range of affordable wines paired with a creative menu that has something for everyone, including vegans who remember the days when you wouldn't want to order vegan cheese even if you did find it on a menu.
I didn't need another reason to visit Gulfport, but Vintage has given me one anyway. If you're any sort of a wine person, you'd do well to add it to your rotation, too.
— Contact Barfly's Justin Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @WordsWithJG.
Vintage Small Bites and Wine Lounge
2914 Beach Boulevard S, Gulfport 33707. (727) 289-5523 vintagewinelounge.comThe vibe: A perfectly quaint wine bar in Gulfport's Art Village Courtyard.
Food: Small plates, $4-$12; entrées, $7-$15; desserts, $8-$19.
Booze: Beer and wine. Beer, $5; wine, $6-$11 by the glass and $14-$44 by the bottle. Late-night happy hour is from 9 p.m to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, featuring 25 percent off all wines by the glass.
Specialty: There are more than 40 wines represented at this tiny bar that comfortably seats six, so its specialty would be obvious even if it weren't spelled out in the name. Whether you grab a red blend from the Pacific Northwest, brut bubbly from France or house-made sangria, you'll appreciate that the entire lineup is budget friendly, with all wines $11 or less.
Hours: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday; 11 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday; 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday; 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.