Move to—or visit—Jackson and it won’t be long before somebody tells you about Eddie & Ruby’s Snack Bar. A local legend since 1981, Eddie’s (as it’s typically known) is generally agreed to be the best place for fried fish in a city that has a fish house on many of its corners. The owner, Eddie & Ruby’s daughter Miss Pat, says “I don’t like to pat myself on the back too much,” but it’s clear she doesn’t have to.
The front of the building is so unassuming one could be forgiven for passing right by Eddie’s without ever knowing it’s there. I’ve been told there’s no “quiet time” to stop by–Eddie’s is always busy so long as the door is open and the fryer is hot–so I’m surprised and relieved to see that the line is only three deep when I arrive.
Earlier in the day I spoke with a man named Derrick Gray, a regular customer of Eddie’s who instructs me to order “pan trout, fried hard,” which I do despite not being sure what exactly “pan trout” is. I’m greeted at the window by a woman with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, who calls me “baby” and tells me to go around back. I head outside and find myself sitting down at a small picnic table with Miss Pat herself.
Eddie and Rubye’s Snack bar was founded in 1981 by Eddie Joe Bennet, named for he and his wife Ruby, and run by he and his daughter until his passing in January, 2000. Pat, who was graduating from high school in 1981, says she didn’t want to come work for her daddy at first. She went to school “for computers”, she says, and had no intention of working in a fish house. But she needed a job, and here was one waiting for her, so she took up the challenge and never looked back.
“I thought it was going to be easy,” she laughs. “It was never easy, I had to work!” But she loves it now, and says she wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I like my people!” she says. “I like the diversity that I get. People will get off planes, comin’ from New York, Canada, Mexico, Chicago, before they go anywhere else they have to come here first.”
When I start to ask Pat about the history of Eddie’s, she steps inside for a moment and comes back carrying a collection of memorabilia of which she is clearly, and deservedly, proud. The centerpiece is an award given last year by the City Council to honor Eddie’s for “longtime family-owned business investment in the Jackson community, the state of Mississippi, and the Nation.” She shows me the trophy and official certificate that came with the award, bearing the signatures of all 7 councilmen and women. It’s certainly an impressive display, and speaks to Eddie’s standing as a Jackson institution.
I know I have to ask about her special batter recipe. It’s a family secret–since her brother’s place out in Clinton burned down a few years back, Eddie’s is the only place in the world that serves it–and I ask if she thinks that’s what keeps people coming back again and again. “Oh yeah,” she laughs, “and my personality!”
By this point, I can testify personally that the batter is incredible. Miss Pat frowned disapprovingly when I told her I’d ordered pan trout and instructed the smiling woman in the kitchen, who I’m told is Miss Valerie, to bring me a piece of catfish. It’s easily the best catfish I’ve ever tasted, but even so, I’m beginning to see that it’s not the only thing that makes this place so beloved. They’ve been in business 35 years, and Pat says she’s “seen kids grow up from babies and come here grown, and bring in their family here.”
When I asked Mr. Gray what he likes most about Eddie’s, he tells me, “You can run into different people there, it’s definitely a good atmosphere. I’ve seen [city] councilmen, professors, lot of different people from different areas of life, they all come there.”
Miss Pat agrees. “That’s good, when you’re able to bring a diverse group into the ‘hood!” I ask her what it is that draws people here, to what she describes as “just a little white building.” She tells me about game nights where people wait in line for over 2 hours just to get a plate of fish and says “when they come in this door, they meet no strangers. That’s a good feeling.” I asked her about the atmosphere right now, when things feel so tense after the 2016 election and all the big changes that have happened.
How does she feel about the future here in this “little white building” in Washington Addition that attracts such a diverse crowd?
Her voice softens as she answers, “This is a place where people still come and talk. Last week I had a customer, she’s Muslim. And I had an African American man, and I had a Caucasian woman in here. And they actually sat at the same table holding a conversation. So I know that if them three can sit at a table together…a dream is still here. I know there’s still hope for this world. We just gotta keep blending it in together.”
I smile, and tell her I’ll be a returning customer.
“Oh you’ll be back!” she says. “Once you taste the food, you’ll be back!”
Eddie & Ruby’s Snack Bar
1268 Valley St.
Jackson, MS 39203