A country getaway just up the road

Seafood Gumbo

When I was a boy, my dad used to take me fishing at my grandma and grandpa’s farm in Lufkin. They had two fishing holes on about 50 acres of land that were stocked with perch and catfish. You had to take a detour through the pea patches and cross lush, green pastures where cattle grazed to reach our favorite fishing spot near the back of the property — a pond, surrounded by oaks, where you could pull the perch out of the water all day long, one after another, with a cane pole and bobber. You always had to work a little harder for the lazy catfish, who liked to hide in the bottom of the pond behind a log in a shady retreat, but it was always well worth the patience and the fight to pull one in. We’d bring a mess of them back to the farmhouse and after my dad cleaned them, my grandma would fry them up in what seemed like a perfectly seasoned batter.

I hadn’t experienced that taste in quite a while — that is, until I paid a visit to Catfish Cabin in Lumberton.

Owners Tim and Susan James know how to make their customers feel at home. With rocking chairs lining the front porch and peanuts for an appetizer, Catfish Cabin definitely has that country feel to it. It’s almost like a getaway to grandma’s house.

Tim says customers drive from miles around to experience the restaurant’s down-home feel and service.

“(Customers) drive from Houston to eat here. They’re coming from Louisiana, from Woodville, from Jasper, Liberty, Baytown,” he says.

It’s a family-owned establishment, and it has been around a spell.

“My family has been in the restaurant business since 1979. It started in Deridder, Louisiana — that’s where we’re from,” Tim says. “My parents opened a Catfish Cabin in Jasper, and we sold it in 1997. So this is the only one left. We’re off the beaten path, so people make a conscious decision to come eat with us. … I think it is just the family atmosphere. There’s really not another place like this.”

Tim and Susan act as both owners and managers.

“We’re hands on. We get to know our customers. They’ve seen our kids raised in here from the time they were in walkers to now that they’re in college,” Tim says.

While many seafood restaurants are importing fish from Vietnam or China, Catfish Cabin is paying the extra buck to make sure customers have the best.

“This is farm-raised American, grain-fed catfish,” Tim says.

The catfish is fried to perfection and battered in the restaurant’s original Creole seasoning. If you want to eat healthier but still want your fish to still have that spicy bite, try the Catfish Monterey. Grilled and seasoned with a blend of fajita spices, covered with Monterey jack cheese, fresh green tomatillo salsa, tomatoes and green onions, this dish is something special. It’s served with your choice of baked potato or french fries. Tim and Susan throw in a couple of hushpuppies for good measure that are to die for. Probably the best I’ve ever tasted.

And who knows how to make seafood gumbo better than Louisianans? I think you know the answer: No one. The roux in this recipe is homemade and comes straight from Tim’s momma’s kitchen — God bless her! With succulent chunks of crab meat, seafood and a whole lot of goodness, it is a great selection your first visit, especially with the temperature dropping outside.

“It’s authentic. It’s not out of a jar,” Tim says. “It takes us about an hour and a half to two hours to make it. Everything we do here, we make ourselves. That’s another unique aspect of us that you can’t go next door and get the same thing.”

The restaurant isn’t afraid of serving large groups of people either. In fact, during my visit they were serving a group of about 50.

Other great entrées include Crabcakes, Fresh Gulf Oysters, and Margarita Chicken.

Like many things in life, when you want something good you usually have to work a little harder. And just like catching that lazy catfish that hides in the shady bottom of the pond, finding this gem of a restaurant in Lumberton is well worth the effort.

— Chad Cooper contributed to this article