I didn't even know there was such a thing as deep-fried corn on the cob! What a great idea -- you'd think you'd see it all over the place. We were driving across Mississippi, having left the interstate just past Meridian. It was just after noon, and I wanted to angle up a bit and catch the Natchez Trace north of Jackson. We were driving along US Hwy 80, passing through little towns like Chunky and Newton and Hickory and Forest and Lake. I thought for sure we'd pass some local little diner or barbecue joint. But nothing.
I was beginning to fear that I'd have to break one of the road rules (#2: Never eat in a chain restaurant). We hadn't had breakfast and the Sonics and Hardees and Burger Kings that we were passing were starting to look pretty good. Then Bruce and I both saw the sign at the same time -- "BJ's Cajun Cooker. Chicken On A Stick $3.99". I scanned the parking lot -- a couple of pickups and three or four cars. Somebody was having lunch. So we turned in.
Inside the door there was a high counter. The menu selections were listed above the order windows. Catfish po' boys, (and shrimp and oyster and clam po' boys too), grilled fish, fish & shrimp, etc., etc... A tall, thin, slightly pinched looking woman swayed up to the window and looked down at us just a little sceptically.
"Hello!" I said brightly. She gave a nod. "What do you think we should have? My friend here is from England."
A pause. "Don't know what he wants," she drawled, making me feel like I'd breached some local protocol.
Bruce gulped & grinned, "There's so many choices...!"
She allowed a slight smile and said, "Some say the catfish is pretty good." Another long pause. "The plates come with two sides..."
So I ordered the grilled catfish plate with coleslaw and corn. Bruce picked the fish and shrimp, with the same sides (I haven't asked him about this, but it was clear he was looking at the list of sides and thinking I have no idea what these things are. Better to be safe and pick what Scott has...)
Miz Lean gave me the order ticket. "Sit wherever you like. I'll call out the last three numbers." She gave me another stern look as if she wasn't quite sure I was following her about the last three numbers.
"This is the real thing," said Bruce as we sat down at our little table, looking out the window at the pond in the back. It took a while (she'd warned me that "it'll take a bit for him to grill that catfish") and then she leaned out the window, looked straight at us, and called out the last three numbers of our ticket. I leapt up and went to get the paper plates, cups for our soda fountain drinks, plastic forks & paper napkins. She softened a bit (I guess because I did the number thing right) and asked if we'd like tartar sauce or lemon juice. Yes, to both, we said, and took everything back to the table.
It was no surprise that the food was superb. This is the kind of place that John T. Edge would love. But I was baffled when I got my plate and saw the golden brown cylinder that I at first took to be some kind of biscuit or corn fritter. And then realized that nowhere on the plate was the mound of cooked corn that I'd been expecting. What was before me was a half-ear of corn that had been very lightly battered and dropped into the frying oil. The crust was paper thin, just enough to protect the kernels from the oil, so that they cooked up wonderfully juicy and full of flavor. The fish was delicious, but the standout was that corn!
The Natchez Trace was beautiful, and we stopped off to see an Indian burial mound, and we wound our way down through the middle of Louisiana, listening to music and watching the life of the little towns, until we finally made it to our motel on the edge of Lake Charles. It was a great driving day and we saw many wonderful things. But I'll remember best the deep fried corn on the cob.