Making the Grade: on the Road to Phenix City, Alabama


By Stacey Patton Wallace

As I sit writing this column for next week’s Observer (which will be published on Jan. 6, the Good Lord willing), I, like all of you, am awaiting 2022, the new year. And like every true Southerner, I am planning to have black-eyed peas and turnip greens as part of the New Year’s Day meal for my husband Mike, my Mama (Barbara Patton, but not the former mayor of Opelika) and me.

  Since black-eyed peas and greens are a Southern tradition for New Year’s Day, Mama always prepared them for us. These two dishes, according to Mama, were supposed to bring us a lot of money in the new year. “Black-eyed peas will bring us change, and turnip greens (or collards) will bring us green, folding money,” she said.

  One year, I pointed out that even though we carried out this Southern tradition yearly, we didn’t receive a lot of extra money; however, we were blessed to have all we needed. Undeterred, Mama said, “Well, if we didn’t eat them, we might have less money than we have now.” Works for me.

  This year, I am attempting to make my Grandma Patton’s (Daddy’s Mama) amazingly delicious tomato sauce, enhancing the black-eyed peas, which are quite bland to me. I’ll report back on how the sauce turned out for me.

  Another Southern food which I  really enjoy is catfish. A former friend of mine in LaGrange, Georgia, disdained catfish, calling them “bottom feeders.” However, he didn’t like my favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” either, so I strongly question his judgment.

  Recently, our friends Jack and William traveled with Mike and me to one of our favorite places to eat this Southern delicacy: Ezell’s Catfish at 3546 U.S. 280 in Phenix City, Alabama.

  I’m so glad that Ezell’s is only 30.2 miles from our house. Also, I love the rustic atmosphere of the restaurant and its slogan, “Eat catfish and be somebody,” which staff members wear on their t-shirts.

  Patrice, our waitress, was really sweet, helpful and patient with us. As I’ve mentioned before, we appreciate all service staff and are always kind to them, especially since many restaurants are still shorthanded. When Patrice brought us our coleslaw and hushpuppies, all was right with the world. As I’ve said before, I usually prefer salad to coleslaw, but not at Ezell’s. I LOVE their coleslaw, which has chipped up pickles in it. Also, their hushpuppies, which have bits of jalapeno peppers, are the BEST. I could eat 10 of them, but I’d be in a diabetic coma, so I restrain myself. As Mike has often said, you could make a meal just out of Ezell’s delicious coleslaw and hushpuppies. However, we did come for catfish.

  For his entrée, Mike ordered blackened catfish with fries, while I chose the grilled catfish and fries. Jack ordered a combo: fried and grilled catfish with cheese grits. Last, William chose fried catfish and calabash shrimp with fries. Ezell’s earns bonus points from me for serving only U.S. farm-raised catfish, 100% American.

  Quiet descended at our table as we ate happily. Everything was delicious; needless to say, no to-go plates were requested. Run, do not walk, to Ezell’s Catfish in Phenix City.

  For starters, Ezell’s offers diners: fried Gulf oysters (seasonal), fried alligator tail (seasonal), steamed Gulf shrimp, Buffalo chicken wings, fried green tomatoes, fried dill pickles, beer battered onion rings, fried crab claws (seasonal) and house-made

seafood gumbo (seasonal).

  Besides our delicious choices, other entrees include: fried or chargrilled chicken strips, hamburger steak, grilled shrimp, boiled peel & eat shrimp, grilled or blackened salmon and a variety of Po Boys.

  Ezell’s Catfish in Phenix City is open on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to  9 p.m.; on Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 9 p.m.; on Friday and Saturday  from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ezell’s Catfish makes the grade with an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember,
“Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!

  Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear each week in the Observer. Stacey may be reached at  


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