By Debi Lander
In 1825, Henry Hagy and his wife Polly docked their flat boat on the banks of the Tennessee River, claimed several acres, and began to build a farm and family. Some years later, their son John built a log shack next to the river as storage for items awaiting steamboat shipment. Union soldiers occupied the shack during the Battle of Shiloh.
During the 1930s, the shack became known as "The Catfish Hotel." Descendant Norvin Hagy--a popular fellow known for his cookouts, catfish, hushpuppies, and storytelling--entertained friends there. Engrossed in his tales (and drink?), guests often ended up spending the night.
Norvin eventually opened Hagy's Catfish Hotel Restaurant on the site. The original structure burned in 1975, and the present building opened a year later. The third generation of Hagys continues serving up catfish, coleslaw, and their signature hushpuppies today, making The Catfish Hotel one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in the country.
On our recent visit, my companions ordered the southern house specialty, the fish breaded in cornmeal and fried golden brown. One described it as "twangy--like plucking on a banjo." They raved about the meaty pieces, eating up seemingly endless servings. They had ordered the $11.95 all-you-can-eat special. Can't beat that!
Being a fan of neither catfish nor hushpuppies, I had chosen the fried shrimp. My plate arrived perfectly cooked, crispy outside, tender inside.
Dessert entices with a lemon rub pie from grandmother's 1938 recipe. Mine was sweet and a bit tart, but not sour. Also on the menu are German chocolate pie, white chocolate banana cream pie, and Jack's caramel pie--all homemade and $5.25 a slice.
Sitting on the banks of the picturesque Tennessee River, just around the corner from the sacred grounds of Shiloh National Military Park and Battlefield, The Catfish Hotel is an excellent lunch or dinner spot for those making a road trip to the area.
Speaking of which, as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War gets underway, we are working on a series of road-trip guides to the battlefields. Such trips are an ideal way to teach children history. I vividly recall seeing Manassas-Bull Run, Richmond, and Gettysburg with my brothers. Perhaps you have similar Civil War battlefield road trip memories from your childhood, too.