My family and I immigrated from Grand Junction, Colo., to Peachtree City, Ga. in June of 1983. My wife and I were life-long southerners prior to our nearly three-year sojourn in western Colorado, so it was no surprise to be welcomed by the heat, humidity, critters, and Southern culture.
I don’t recall how long it took to discover Catfish Hollow, a locally owned restaurant in nearby Tyrone, Ga. While the menu featured a number of selections, the cash crop for Catfish Hollow was. .. deep fried catfish.
Some people look down on fried catfish but for many in the South, it is both a staple of life and a delicacy. Or as one friend of mine might say, “I love me some fried catfish.”
At the restaurant in Tyrone there was a pond beside the restaurant. Someone, trying to pull my leg, told me that the catfish were extremely fresh because the pond was a catfish breeding pond.
He was lying, of course, but being gullible, I believed it for a couple of years until I finally asked a server where they obtained their catfish. I don’t remember the answer, but it certainly wasn’t the pond.
My family frequented Catfish Hollow often and continued to go there when they outgrew their facilities and moved to Thomas Crossroads in neighboring Coweta County. Over time, all three of my sons would work at Catfish Hollow during their teen years.
While other items, such as steak, could be ordered, I don’t think I ever ordered anything but catfish. These weren’t fillets that I ordered but whole catfish, with the head removed, deep fried. Fins and all, the way that God meant for catfish to be eaten.
And the cole slaw … oh my, it was good. In fact, it was, and remains, the tastiest slaw I have ever put in my mouth. If we had family over, or were having a church dinner, my wife always sent me to Catfish Hollow to get copious amounts of slaw. There were never any slaw leftovers.
Normally, I eat tartar sauce with my catfish, but back then, I ate the fish with the slaw. My eyes just glaze over as I remember those wonderful meals.
The restaurant was owned by the Al Wise family who were personally involved in all aspects of the restaurant. In addition to my sons, Catfish Hollow was a first job and a training ground for many, perhaps hundreds, of high school students over the years who were learning work skills and making memories.
If I had a complaint, there would only be one — there was no background music to drown out the conversations going on at the tables in the restaurant. Southerners tend to be loud when they are having a good time, so it was pretty easy to overhear nearby chatter. Although, I did hear some juicy gossip which I will never reveal.
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was a song released in 1969 by the rock group, The Band. Joan Baez released her version in 1971 and it hit #3 on the charts. It has been recorded by literally dozens of artists, including John Denver, Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Charlies Daniels band, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers band, and the Zac Brown Band. It is a lament set in the waning days of the War Between the States.
Someone should write such a lament about the closing of Catfish Hollow. It has been several years now, and I still have not found a restaurant that sells whole fried catfish and cole slaw that compares to Catfish Hollow. “The Night They Closed Catfish Hollow Down.” I think it’s a good song title. The Zac Brown Band could really do that song up.
Some people do not like catfish, fried or otherwise. As I resided in other parts of the country, catfish didn’t come up on those foreign menus all that often. But, for the working class and the poorer class of the South, for hundreds of years, catfish was plentiful, fairly easy to catch (one can even catch catfish by hand if you know how) and fed generations of the people who lived here. It’s part of the culture of the South.
And for those who don’t get it or who eschew the idea of eating whole deep-fried catfish with cole slaw, all I can say is, “Well, honey, bless your heart.”
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streamed at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) and may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]