For generations, fried catfish, with its faithful sidekicks french fries and hush puppies, has served family reunions and Southern potlucks. Waxahachie’s Catfish Plantation provides this country classic but requires visitors to go beyond the normal.
Waxahachie, the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas, is also known for its dozens of ornate historic homes. I discovered that one of these 19th-century gingerbread houses delivers some of the best catfish in Texas from one of the state’s strangest dining rooms.
I knew something was different about the Catfish Plantation when I noticed two cartoon ghosts dancing on the restaurant’s logo. Once I stepped inside, I realized the ghost theme continues throughout the building, appearing in framed pictures, salt and pepper shakers, and even the peppermint dish. This would have made sense at Halloween, but my visit was in April. The hostess confirmed my suspicions that by all accounts, the house is haunted. I asked if she believed in ghosts, and she said, “After working here, absolutely.”
I took a seat in the parlor to wait for my table and noticed two binders filled with handwritten customer stories about experiences of the paranormal kind. I couldn’t resist reading spooky stories ranging from disappearing silverware to unexpected taps on the shoulder. There were even a number of customer photos that, if tilted just right, captured a face in the window.
The house was built in 1895, and since it was converted to a restaurant in 1984, otherworldly occurrences have become as common as the catfish. The Landis family purchased this institution more than a decade ago. Shawn Landis, the executive chef and family matriarch, provides background to support customer and staff ghost stories. She recounts tales of the antique crank-style doorbell ringing on its own and the light switches that sit inside a glass case flipping off without warning. Even so, she was quick to assure me that nothing sinister ever happens. “Customers may come for the ghosts, but they come back for the catfish,” Landis said.
Before I could dine, I felt obligated to brave the most haunted room in the house: the men’s restroom. That room is notorious for shadowy figures appearing in the mirror and for the latch unlocking without help from human hands. I took a deep breath and tried not to look in the mirror as I washed my hands.
The hostess seated me in the front room, where I looked over a menu filled with options including steak and grilled quail. I couldn’t pass up the house special Cajun catfish, which features a layer of spice beneath the golden cornmeal crust. It was some of the best catfish I’ve eaten on the road, which made me wonder why they needed to embrace a gimmick like ghosts in order to fill seats. The food could speak for itself.
These thoughts left me with the uneasy conclusion that the ghost stories were not a marketing ploy but actually were true. I was not going to believe the stories until I had a ghostly experience for myself. With that in mind, I had no choice but to order a piece of homemade bread pudding topped with white chocolate sauce, just to give the ghosts a little longer to haunt me.
Chet Garner shares his Texplorations as the host of The Daytripper on PBS.