In 2016, I moved from the land of snow and Uff-da to southern Mississippi. It has been a Cultural Experience on so many different levels. I have offended people with my disinterest in cornbread and grits, learned the meaning of the phrase “wide open,” and discovered various foreign delicacies that I had never heard of before such as chicken spaghetti and fried okra — to name just a few things! So I thought it would be interesting to start a series called “This is The South” where I occasionally feature various foods and customs that were completely new to Midwestern Me. Let us commence.
The Catfish House
Probably every small town in the south has some kind of catfish house. The business model seems a little unique to me. Most catfish houses are only open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, (and sometimes Sunday) nights from about 5-9pm. During these truncated hours, they are jam-packed with all — and I mean all! — of your friends, neighbors, and relations.
It is such a distinctive experience that some catfish houses don’t even have menus — everybody knows what would be on it, so why bother, right?
Typically, a bowl of coleslaw and a basket of saltine crackers will be brought out as an appetizer. The staples on the menu are usually a 4-6 piece plate of fried catfish fillets, hushpuppies, french fries, fried okra, stewed turnip greens, and other fried things as well. Probably hamburgers are available, too, for the un-fishy among us though I haven’t looked specifically for that. Oh, and of course, Sweet Tea! (Too sweet for me! I’ll stick with water, thanks.) Condiments on the table, in addition to the obvious salt and peppers, will include some kind of hot sauce, ketchup, and a bottle of “pepper sauce” which is actually not a sauce, but a jar of vinegar infused with hot peppers. (This is a must for sprinkling into your turnip greens.) There’s a little bit of variation in seasonings for the breading of fried items or turnip greens, but for the most part I think a catfish house is a catfish house. Near larger towns, they might mix up the menu and bring in some shrimp or crab.
Jerry’s Catfish House
Or frog legs. Jerry’s Catfish House does frog legs…..And that’s not the only unusual thing about it!
I drive by Jerry’s Catfish House every day, and I wonder what the story is. The building looks like a big, white igloo on the side of the road. My best hypothesis is that maybe the catfish house owners purchased the building from some kind of displaced eskimo cult? Maybe? So this past weekend, we finally decided to check it out.
Despite its puzzling architecture, Jerry’s Catfish House is a typical catfish house. They make use of the domed rotunda by having a second level of seating along the perimeter that looks down on the level below through a railing lined with streetlamp-like fixtures. While I was there, I didn’t ask anybody about the reason for the “igloo” design because everybody seemed a little too busy to be bothered. But from some photos on the wall, we found that apparently the owners of the catfish house were involved in the construction! So the mystery continues. Maybe it’s supposed to look like a catfish egg. Oh–no, apparently catfish eggs are orange. Hmm. Oh well!
As far as how Jerry’s food stacks up, I feel like I have had more flavorful breading elsewhere, but overall everything was great! Not too greasy, and very crisp and fresh.
So if you’re ever anywhere in the south, make sure you visit a catfish house! Throw caution to the wind and try fried all-the-things — I especially recommend okra and jalapenos.
And if you can find out why Jerry’s looks like an igloo — leave a comment! I’m dying to know!