8.08.2006

Catfish,Chicken Salad and the Wildflower Café

Fishing was and is a family activity for us. I've been catching catfish since before I could walk. My dad loves to fish. He caught the bug from his mom, my grandmother, who loved to fish. My grandmother always wore long skirts in the old fashioned way and carried a stool and a big can so she could be comfortable and not have to move around very much if the fish were biting. The only other thing she needed was a cold Pepsi in a glass bottle. But back then, soda pop only came in glass bottles.

Yet, even though catfish have been in my life since birth, I never ate catfish until I moved to Chicago when I was 34 years old. That's a few years ago now. Catfish have skin not scales, so they are a pain to clean. And while we enjoyed catching them. We threw them back or kept them and gave them away to the neighbors.

Once I started eating catfish, however, I was hooked. I like nuggets or even the whole fish laid out on a plate, fried, with mustard, salt pepper and maybe a green salad or some fried potatoes on the side.

If you like catfish and travel to Mentone, you need to stop at Dessies. It's right on the main drag through town, state route 117. There is a sign on the front window that announces that God is Dessie's security guard so walk right in cause he's always watching. That woman truly knows how to cook catfish. It is fried right and juicy, seasoned to perfection either whole as a dinner or as a sandwich.

Take your choice on sides, including turnips and collards. Dessie, a tall dignified snow white haired woman who may be approaching her 7th decade, was written up in the local papers, she's not famous for the catfish, but for her cobblers and pies. All of it is good and Dessie even comes out of the kitchen to chat you up and to make sure you're satisfied. She quietly hovers over you and I loved it.

Before you get to Dessies you have to pass the Wildflower Cafe. It sits on the corner next to the Gourdie Shop. It immediately caught our eye, but we didn't make it there until the weekend and it was worth the wait.

Temperature was approaching 100-degrees so my sister and I sat outside, in the shade of the back porch, which was sparingly decorated with ceramic tile covered wooden tables and chairs. Someone hand painted wild flowers or the porch columns and hung hummingbird feeders. We watched the tiny little birds come and go while we dined on a turkey club and chicken salad made with shredded chicken breast, not chunks, basil mayonnaise with green grapes and almonds, served with bread, romaine lettuce and soup if you want, and all the southern sweet iced tea you can drink.

I don't remember hearing the owner's name, but she was there too. A been around the world kind of woman, tired and slow moving with a cigarette hanging out of the side of her mouth. Talky, her life started somewhere in California and I never connected how she got to Mentone, but listening to this part of her life was fascinating. She was on the porch to smoke and to hang magic marker signs about the night's specials. We talked about the heat, learned that our waitress was a native of Gadsden, Alabama and just up in Mentone for the weekend. Her mom was there too, I guess making extra money.

We learned how to order pizza and when to pick it up, since there was no delivery. We confirmed what we already knew and that was that there is no grocery store in Mentone. I mean big ones like Kroger or Food Lion. You have to drive to Fort Payne, about 30 minutes away.

We traded information about our origins, why we were there. It was an easy way to spend an afternoon in between our heavy duty shopping runs.
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