If you're looking for shining examples of the local indigenous cuisine while driving Highway 59 through East Texas and you've already had your fill of barbecue then its time to pull over for some catfish. I purchased this fried catfish dinner with cole slaw, french fries, odd cylindrical hush puppies and fried pickles at the Atlanta (Texas) David Beard Catfish King restaurant. I seem to recall the meal was $3.99 without the fried pickles.
David Beard, The Catfish King, is a local legend in these parts. According to his long and fascinating bio on the restaurant corporation's website, Beard dropped out of high school because his parents couldn't afford to buy him shoes. Convinced he could cook catfish better than anyone in the immediate vicinity, he founded a catfish restaurant that was perpetually overflowing with customers, then moved into bigger digs and eventually ended up with an East Texas catfish restaurant empire and a catfish processing plant.
The catfish farming biz isn't doing as well as it once was. The cost of catfish farming went up, while competition from the Vietnamese catfish farming industry sent prices downward. According to a story in the New York Times last summer, the founder of the catfish business in Mississippi declared the industry dead and drained his ponds. He suggested that Americans could go buy imported catfish now, just like they buy imported oil.
I wonder how the David Beard enterprise is faring in the post catfish boom era? Is the company still processing American farm-raised fish, or have David Beard's Catfish King restaurants given up and started buying imported catfish like everybody else?
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