Sunday, November 22, 2009

Vacation, Day 3, 10/23/2009, Part 1

Bright and not too early Friday morning everyone got into the truck at Milton and Kay's. Our first destination--the Dinner Bell in McComb, Mississippi.

Tinkerbell wouldn't be dining with us, but that didn't matter to her--she just wanted to ride.

Kay's favorite field, seen on the road between their house and I-55 and shot through the rolled-up window, hence the ghost-like spots in the trees.

We arrived at the Dinner Bell a few minutes before it opened for the day. Here's a bit about the restaurant that I found at their Web site: Welcome to The Dinner Bell, located in McComb, Mississippi. We are located in a colonial structure, where our diners sit around large round lazy susan style tables loaded with a large selection of good down home cooking. You simply spin the lazy susan and within your reach are huge quantities of comfort food including the house specialty, fried eggplant. When any serving dish starts getting empty, out comes a full one from the kitchen. To drink with all this good food, there is only one proper thirst quencher, ice cold sweet tea. I found more about the restaurant at other sites and have put two of them at the bottom of today's post.

I had already looked up Friday's menu at their Web site, so I knew my dreams would come true, if the food lived up to Milton and Kay's reports to us. "We don't eat breakfast when we're going to lunch at the Dinner Bell," both of them told us. Thank goodness for that piece of advice because it only took moments for Mama and me to realize that we were in home-cooked-comfort-food heaven on earth!

Here's that menu at the Dinner Bell: Catfish, Fried Chicken, Fried Okra, the House Specialty Fried Eggplant, Yams, Dumplings, Turnips, Green Beans, Lima Beans, Field Peas, Mashed Potatoes, Rice & Gravy, Cole Slaw. Now for the photos.

Well, they're calling them lima beans on the menu, but they'll always be butterbeans to me!
Butterbeans, my favorite Southern vegetable, are perfect when each bean's skin tightly covers the meaty, plump insides. See how firm and tight each bean looks? See the bacon? I have to admit that eating vegetables with bacon in them, after years of not having done so, gave me pause. Would the bacon flavor overpower the beans or peas or greens? Would I find each spoonful greasy in my mouth? Not at the Dinner Bell! Each bite of butterbeans satisfied me. Each bite brought back memories of butterbeans on the family table at home as well as on the holiday table at my grandmothers' or my aunt's homes. One more good point--these butterbeans were not overloaded with liquid which we in our family call butterbean juice. I just checked with Mama to make sure I remembered that right!

Fried chicken. All of the plump, perfect chicken breasts were already on somebody's plate, one of them mine.
Once I saw that crispy, crusty chicken and smelled it as it spun by, I figured I was in for a treat. Oh, my, was I ever. All it took was one bite for me to realize I had found El Dorado. Not the actual gold mine--it's golden fried chicken at the Dinner Bell! Succulent, flavorful, crispy. Each bite took me straight back to the fried chicken of my youth, cooked by Mama, her mother Mama Sudie, my Daddy's mother Ma, or his sister my Aunt Baker, in seasoned, heavy iron skillets. I even used to cook it pretty good myself--not as good as theirs--but it's been years and years. After I read what I'd written about the fried chicken to Mama, she said, "Both of us, it's been years and years."

The Dinner Bell's house speciality, fried eggplant. As I ate a bite of it, I heard the manager say that the entire recipe and process of cooking this memorable dish is known by only three people, all in the kitchen. I couldn't begin to guess how they did it. How does the breading stay on so well through the frying? What makes the breading taste unique? I ate two slices of it, and I still don't know.

Fried okra! Crispy, crunchy on the outside, fresh-cut okra on the inside. My gosh! I wish I could have gone in that kitchen and hugged somebody!

Us at the Dinner Bell, standing, Kay. Left to right, Ian, Milton, Mama, Me.

Dessert, peach cobbler on the right front, banana pudding on the back left. I ate some banana pudding--tasty pudding, not too sweet, firm bananas.

Left to right, margarine or butter (I don't know which), cornbread, a bottle of pepper sauce hiding behind it--lots of people sprinkle it on their greens--other condiments and sweeteners, lemon wedges, and those jewels of the garden, beets.
Notice in the background, beyond our table. That's the front dining room, right off the front door. When we entered we were directed to the back one, or at least I'd call it the back one because it was behind the other one which had two smaller tables in it. Our room held only our really big table. Let me see, there were five of us, three people together on my right, next a family of four or five, then two couples.

Fried catfish, fried chicken, and sweet tea.
While the catfish tempted me, I knew it would be best for me to save myself for Milton's fried fish at Talladega the next week, so I didn't try it.

Turnip greens and mashed potatoes--I didn't eat any of either one, there was just so much else! And I figured my Aunt Baker would cook some turnip greens when we visited her and my Uncle J the next week. She didn't get to do that, but I'm OK with it.
Look at that beautiful curving line of serving dishes! All lined up like dutiful soldiers, waiting to serve. I'll never, ever get over how good that food tasted. If I had a private jet and the money to fly it, I believe I'd be hardpressed not to fly down to McComb once a month!

Field peas--I ate these little beauties, such a fresh, hearty taste in a small shape. Notice there is more liquid here, pea juice. For some reason which must have something to do with my raising and the eating that went on during those years, I've never been bothered by generous amounts pea juice, but I sure don't want it with my butterbeans.

I also ate delicious yams but not the sweet potato casserole--Mama ate some of it and reports that it was good; she also ate chicken and dumplings, also good. Both of us seem to remember cooked cabbage, too, but neither one of us ate any. (I cooked us a tiny organic cabbage last Sunday, pretty doggone good if I do say so myself. I paired it with steamed broccoli, rice and a meatloaf.) Somehow I missed taking photos of everything. Mama says it happened because I was so busy eating. She's telling you the truth 'cause that's just what I was doing!

Dinner Bell server Tuesday answered yes when I asked if I could take her photo for my blog.
I came up with this title for her, professional-lazy-susan-spinner-extraordinaire! She'd walk up, serving dish in one hand, reach carefully between two patrons with her other hand, and give the table just the right amount of spin to make an almost empty bowl stop right in front of her. Or she'd get an already empty spot on the table to come right where she needed it. One of the other diners commented on how tentatively all of us spun the table compared to her comfort level with it.

Speedy table spinning, courtesy of Tuesday.

Parts of the bell collection display that Ian pointed out to me.



Here's more about the Dinner Bell that I found at Roadfood dot com:
The Dinner Bell’s glorious reputation for extravagant southern meals has unfurled since it opened in 1945. The restaurant changed locations in 1959 due to a fire, and in 1978, to the horror of its fans, it closed. Two years later the Lopinto family came along and opened it again, for which they were selected "Family of the Month" by the local Chamber of Commerce Howdycrat Board.

The Lopintos' goal was to preserve a great and unusual dining tradition. The tables at the Dinner Bell have always been known for the fried chicken and vegetable casseroles they hold, as well as for the fact that they spin in circles.

Yes, the tables revolve. They are round, and in the center of each is a lavish lazy susan. Service is boarding house style: spin the lazy susan and take what you want. When any serving tray starts getting empty, out comes a full one from the kitchen. Grab as much as you want and eat at your own speed.

It isn't only quantity and convenience that make Dinner Bell meals memorable. This is marvelous food: chicken and dumplings, catfish, ham, corn sticks, sweet potato casseroles, black eyed peas, fried eggplant and fried okra. The dishes we cannot resist are the flamboyant vegetable casseroles supercharged with cheese and cracker crumbs: our kind of health food. Spinach casserole enriched with cream cheese and margarine and cans of artichoke hearts is good for the soul ... not to mention the fact that it is scrumptious. To drink with all this good food, there is only one proper libation: sweet, sweet tea.

More that I found at Chowhound dot com:
Ding Ding Dinner's Served

I'd been wanting to hit the Dinner Bell in downtown McComb for some time. On the way back from my hot dog quest, I drove another couple hundred miles out of my way to take advantage of time and opportunity.

The Dinner Bell is only open Tuesday thru Sunday for lunch, 11A - 2P, so you have to time a visit from out of town just right.

The Bell serves its meals family style, at round tables that sit 18. Atop the table is a huge "lazy susan," laden with entrees, salads, side dishes, desserts, and icy pitchers of sweet ice tea. On a typical day, you might find any of the following: fried chicken, carved ham, turkey, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, catfish, ribs, liver and onions, white rice, dirty rice, gravy, sweet potato casserole, cole slaw, greens, green beans, black-eyed peas, okra, red beans, corn, biscuits, rolls, corn bread and a multitude of desserts. Sundays at the Bell are even more lavish.

I dare say it's the best fried chicken I've "ever et anywheres," and I don't usually give a hoot about fried chicken.

The 50 year old restaurant specializes in "comfort food" and has been in its present location, a restored home from the early 20's, since 1959. The restaurant has passed through several generations of owners, and the current proprietors, although new to the Bell, are old-timers in the area, and have continued the traditions, menu, and service of the Bell without missing a beat.


WendyB said...

That food makes me want to lick the screen!

Jim K said...

man, what a place. I would never be late for the dinner bell. They are butterbeans to me also. YUMM.