Mississippi muse: Feasting on fried food in Ridgeland

75115/FOOD

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

Fried dill pickles, fried catfish, fried chicken, fried onion rings, river fries, fried okra, fried corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes and deep-fried hushpuppies.

Dining at Cock of the Walk in Ridgeland, Miss., is not for the leafy greens type. But if you want a real taste of Mississippi specialties, this is the place. Ask anyone in town where you can find good food and Cock of the Walk is where they will send you.

Dinner is a choice of fried catfish or fried chicken served family style on enormous platters set in the center of the table. The platters are piled high with river fries, catfish, chicken and hushpuppies (all fried in 100 percent peanut oil). Coleslaw and pickled onions are served on the side. We also shared an order of fried dill pickles (fantastic!) and onion rings.

For the three of us from California, this was our first time trying catfish as well as most of the fried foods. The catfish was surprisingly light and mild.

That’s because Cock of the Walk’s catfish is locally farm raised and pond-fed, said Curtis Haley, president of operations for the restaurant.

“Our climate is very conducive to the production of growing catfish,” said Haley, who has worked for the restaurant for 40 years. “Catfish are bottom feeders, which give it an off flavor. But in a controlled environment, they are monitored for everything, and as a result you keep a very pure product.

“Catfish is a pure white, flaky product if handled properly,” Haley said. “The only flavor you should get is the seasoning we put on it.”

Mississippi provides 75 percent of the U.S. supply of pond-raised catfish.

So why the unusual name?

According to Haley, the concept of Cock of the Walk originated with three families living in Natchez, Miss. For decades, Natchez was a major port for transporting goods from the north to the south on keelboats. The boatmen were a rowdy bunch, always getting into fistfights and bar brawls. The toughest man on the boat was called the “Cock of the Walk.” The restaurant founders adopted the name to preserve a bit of local history to serve along with their catfish.

– Cock of the Walk, 141 Madison Landing Circle, Ridgeland, Miss. Dinner $12.95 adults, $6.95 children under 10; www.cockofthewalkrestaurant.com

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