Best Catfish in MS

By Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of Dustin Barker, Jerry’s Catfish House, Rayner’s Seafood House and The Old Watermill Fish Camp

A tried-and-true staple of Mississippi cuisine, catfish is easily one of the state’s most popular dishes. No matter where you travel in the state, you’re sure to find some of the best.
Taylor Grocery
Taylor, Mississippi

Located in the town of Taylor near Oxford, Taylor Grocery has been around since the late 1880s. Originally a dry goods store, Taylor Grocery underwent many ownership changes through the years.
“It was always a country store first and sold catfish on the weekends,” said Lynn Hewlett, who purchased the business in 1998. “I always thought it would be a good restaurant. It was where I was raised and grew up. I knew it would be interesting.”
Hewlett already had a restaurant background, running a barbecue restaurant in Oxford along with a catering business. However, after purchasing Taylor Grocery, he gave up the barbecue restaurant because he couldn’t dedicate the time to both restaurants.
It seems he made the right choice. Open Thursday through Sunday nights, Taylor Grocery stays busy from open to close. Hewlett said he thinks people come for the quality of food and the atmosphere.
“People like to find a place that’s different and take their friends there,” Hewlett said. “Everybody likes to find that little hole in the wall.”
Of course, they also want their catfish. The fried filets are the most popular menu item, although diehard catfish fans want their whole fish.
“Those who want the whole fish are most adamant about it,” Hewlett said. “They won’t eat anything else.”
He seems to be among that crowd, stating the whole fish are his favorite as well.
So what makes the catfish so good?
“We start with a good product,” Hewlett said. “I think it’s the best in the world: Mississippi farm-raised catfish. Our fish breading (cornmeal) is very simple. We don’t overdo it.”
Apparently, it’s a winning recipe that keeps bringing customers back again and again.

Jerry’s Catfish House
Florence, Mississippi

Just south of Jackson in Florence on U.S. Highway 49, Jerry’s Catfish House has been serving catfish since 1986. The restaurant was the brainchild of Jerry Bridges, who opened the restaurant with his wife, Wanda. Unfortunately, Jerry didn’t get to enjoy the restaurant for very long, passing away in 1990. Today, the business is run by his wife and sons, Jay and Daryl.
The restaurant’s unique architecture—a dome-shaped building—has been catching the eye of passersby for years. According to Jay, during a vacation his father saw a church built like an igloo, and he had the idea that if he built a restaurant with the same architecture then people would come for the first time to see the building and return for the good food.
It appears the idea worked, given the restaurant continues to draw a crowd every Thursday through Sunday. Wanda said she thinks customers return because they love their fresh-cooked catfish.
“The way we cook it in a cornmeal batter and fry it, we take care in preparing it,” Wanda said. “It’s golden brown when we take it up. And we use only Mississippi farm-raised catfish. Everybody loves catfish.”
Jerry’s Catfish House serves up all-you-can-eat catfish, both filets and whole fish, as well as an a la carte menu of steak, seafood, chicken and burgers. Not surprisingly, the fried filets accompanied by French fries, coleslaw and hushpuppies are the most popular.

Rayner’s Seafood House
Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Further south on U.S. Highway 49 in Hattiesburg, Rayner’s Seafood House welcomes customers to enjoy catfish every Wednesday through Saturday at this family-owned restaurant. Opened in 1965 by James and Jeanette Rayner, Rayner’s Seafood House was a second career for James. His first was working in the oil fields, where he always talked about how good the cooks were, said Kim Rayner, who now owns the restaurant with her husband, Mickey, who is James’ son.

“He also learned a lot of good recipes from different cooks on the oil rigs,” Rayner said.
Those recipes have evolved into a menu of fried catfish, shrimp and oysters, along with a few items for those who don’t like seafood.
“We always fry our food fresh as it is ordered,” Rayner said. “We always fry in fresh oil and use a fine breading and fry to a golden brown. We have a special hushpuppy recipe that James came up with, and it is really one of the best hushpuppies you will ever eat.”
While their customers return for the food, Rayner said they also love the restaurant’s atmosphere.
“We try to treat our customers like family,” she said. “We have customers that have come to Rayner’s for 40 years and also customers that travel each year to visit with us. We have been blessed to be able to raise our children, and now our grandchildren, in a family environment.”

The Old Watermill Fish Camp
Ellisville, Mississippi

Situated between Laurel, Collins and Hattiesburg, The Old Watermill Fish Camp in Ellisville has served up catfish since 1973, when the restaurant was founded by R.F. Lowry.
“He was raising catfish and decided to sell it in a restaurant,” said Alice Haigler, Lowry’s daughter, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Scott. “He got so busy, he had to start buying catfish from others.”
Haigler started working in the restaurant when she was 15; her children also worked there, and now her daughter and son-in-law work at the restaurant with her.
“We have a good home and family atmosphere,” Haigler said. Of course, the catfish is quite popular as well.
“It’s fresh, Mississippi farm-raised catfish fried in peanut oil,” Haigler said. “We use plain cornmeal with a little salt. I guess they like it.”
The Old Watermill Fish Camp serves whole catfish and filets along with shrimp, oysters, smoke ribs and chicken. While there are the usual sides, the coleslaw is a customer favorite.
“It’s the dressing,” Haigler said. “It’s a family recipe developed by my mom, Flo.”
Although Haigler said the restaurant is “kind of out of the way,” that doesn’t seem to stop customers from frequenting The Old Watermill Fish Camp.
“Some customers come the same night every week, and some come two or three times a week,” Haigler said.
And why not? It’s hard to pass up good catfish.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.