We’ve had some good meals in Meridian over the years. It’s the kind of hard-scrabble, down-on-its-luck community that we’ve always felt drawn to. If you want to eat well, find a blue collar city that’s seen better years and if you’re lucky you might find a place like Seafood Express or the late-lamented Hungry Heifer which sat just a mile down the road.
A fried catfish po boy that runs $12 at New Orleans’ Parkway Bakery will set you back $7 at Seafood Express. And it’s better.Walking in just after noon, a line of men in paint-speckled Dickies with measuring tapes clipped to their belts is on queue. The staff is hustling. Everybody’s in a good mood and the air is filled with the smell of seafood burbling away in deep fat fryers.
The gas station seats 16 patrons. I avail myself of one of the booths and sit back to take in the scene. Each person that enters turns to my perch and greets me when they walk in. It’s the same way all over the South where politeness is part and parcel of everyday life.
Each meal is fried per order so I have a few minutes of wool-gathering before my fried catfish po boy arrives, but once the lady calls out ‘Roosevelt’ I know my near future is filled with one of the best sandwiches in all of Mississippi.As I bite in a man breaks through the door, turns to me and exclaims “Dayem mane, how much that thing cost?”
The counter ladies are cutting up with each customer. Most get a “You gonna eat or what?” if the order seems like it’s taking too long to be placed.
Two tawny, crispy fried catfish planks are stuffed into a big New Orleans-French bread loaf. A po boy here comes with onions, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes. Most of the eaters are getting Whiting (Hake) a fish that I grew used to when I was a teen in Birmingham exploring the West End’s soul food joints.Infrared lamps keep giant heaps of cut up fried chicken good and hot for the busy men who need to grab a pasteboard box of food while they’re on the run. Plastic sacks filled with turkey necks, red-skinned potatoes and corn on the cob are also a popular to-go item.
A man exercising his sartorial splendor strolls in wearing a Kangol hat with a pair of Jackie O sunglasses on; he’s also carrying a golden-knobbed cane. He high fives every person he comes within three feet of all the while loudly proclaiming that he’s here for ‘the best fried chicken in Mississippi’
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2200 Highway 39 N
Meridian, MS 39301