All the right cues say “country” at the outset — Country Fisherman’s sign out front on U.S. 80 and the steaming buffet inside. Rustic comfort wraps you like a cousin’s hug, and all that food spread out across the salad boat, hot buffet lines and the dessert bar nudge sweet nostalgia for Grandma’s house, if your Grandma’s the type to fill you up till you pop. One thing’s for sure: There’s a feast afoot.
The plank paneling, vaulted ceiling, entrance deck and screened-in patio capture that old-fashioned fish house feel — an air echoed inside with trophy mounts, antique memorabilia, fun old bikes and more.
The heap of freshly fried catfish occupies just one tray in a double-barreled buffet line of tempting choices that also include Southern fried chicken, greens, fried okra, cornbread and so much more.
“It’s been a destination for people who love the country cooking, the Southern cuisine,” says owner Nate Blount, “and over the years, it hasn’t stopped.” Blount and his wife, Joyce, bought the Country Fisherman as a franchise in 2004, following his 35-year career with Shoney’s. “I saw more opportunity in the Country Fisherman, as a growth potential,” he says. Tuma died in 2009 and in 2012, the Blounts bought the company as a whole.
They added mobile trailers to take catering to events and festivals, opened a cafe in Pearl and another big restaurant in Byram. The roomy Jackson restaurant seats about 212. “It’s been great for parties, and Sundays are just off the charts,” Blount says.
They’re open for lunch daily plus a Southern buffet Thursday evening, a seafood buffet Friday and Saturday nights and then they pack them in 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The restaurant’s personality is a key part of its draw. “It looks like a big ol’ country fish house, and that attracts people to it,” Blount says. Longing for simpler, less hectic times? You feel that here, along with friendly hospitality as you take your pick of all the stick-to-your-ribs options.
Country Fisherman specializes in catfish, Southern fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, cornbread “and all the amenities that go with that,” he says. Homemade desserts such as bread pudding, banana pudding, seasonal pecan pie and more bring a sweet close to the heap of goodness that doubtless piled on your plate for the main meal.
“What’s Blount’s choice for lunch?” I ask, trying to narrow the broad swath of colorful choices. “Nate Blount samples the bar, OK? As a whole, making sure everything’s up to standards,” he says with a grin.
With the Fisherman name and my native roots, it’s easy to zoom in on the catfish. “Mississippians love great catfish,” he says. “We were bred on it, from all the different catfish lakes down in the Delta. Most of them want to know if it’s Mississippi-raised catfish. I tell them, ‘Of course!’
“Peggy had the right idea,” he says, with basic Southern food finding a loyal customer base. With Blount’s food background, “she knew I could take it to another level.” Such cuisine is a welcome throwback as trends move toward packaged food and grab-and-go options. “This food takes time. You’ve got to cook it.”
“People come to us because we do the hand-cut yams … hand-cut rutabagas. People just don’t do that anymore. We cook the dried peas … and the cornbread that we cut by hand and put out like Mom put on the table.” “So, it’s like going home again. And, that’s the feeling we want everyone to have.”
At the moment, scarecrows and autumn leaves add a harvest theme but come Christmas, a 15-foot Christmas tree, holiday music and a crackling fire will warm the room.
At the buffet, I’m pulled toward the vibrant yams, rich mac and cheese, turnip greens, cabbage, hushpuppies with a spicy flirt of jalapeño, and of course, golden fried catfish. The world-class dessert bar’s spread of cakes, pies and more is dazzling and decadent, but the Country Fisherman’s homey feel works its spell. That best-selling banana pudding scores one more fan.