By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Pete Atkinson will be the first one to tell you he runs a bland restaurant. And that’s just the way he likes it.
“We’re not exciting,” he said. “If you want exciting, you go to Disneyworld. There’s no entertainment here, no big screen TVs. We just serve good food at reasonable prices. People come here to enjoy themselves and to socialize.”
Atkinson and his daughter, Kitty, and wife, Norma, must be doing something right, because their restaurant, Atkinson Steak House in Smithville, is packed with diners and to-go orders Wednesday through Sunday nights.
“As sophisticated as diners are today, they still like basic things and I think that’s why they come here,” said Atkinson, 65.
The restaurant specializes in steaks and seafood and has a few specialty items on the menu that are popular, such as grilled chicken livers wrapped in bacon, seafood gumbo and homemade chili.
The most recent addition to the menu – in fact it’s so new it’s not even on the menu yet – is a steak hoagie.
“People had been wanting us to offer a sandwich,” Atkinson said. “I think they wanted us to add a hamburger, but we already have a hamburger steak, which we grind ourselves from our lean steak trimmings. This sandwich has been real popular, so far.”
Steaks still No. 1
Atkinson got into the restaurant business when he was a student at Mississippi State University, studying banking and finance. His last two years there, he worked at Mize, a restaurant in West Point.
“Mr. Mize offered me a partnership and I found myself in the food business,” he said.
The Atkinsons later had Park Restaurant in Amory and then a restaurant in Texas. Next, they ran the County Barn in Amory for a half dozen years. That’s when daughter Kitty Poole came on board.
“I was in the furniture business for 10 years and I got tired of it,” she said. “Pete and Mother were operating the County Barn at the time so I joined them and I’ve been with them ever since.”
That was 20 years ago.
“We haven’t managed to kill each other yet, so I guess we’ve done pretty well,” Atkinson said, laughing.
When the family first opened Atkinson’s in 1998, it was a three-person operation: Pete and Kitty in the kitchen, and Norma out front. They could seat a total of 42 people.
“A lot of regular customers followed us here from the County Barn and were patient with us,” he said. “We had a lot of to-go orders. We did an expansion in 2005 and now we can seat 125. This room has made a difference and our customers love it and that’s what really matters.”
Also, in the beginning, the only thing on the menu was steaks.
“We didn’t have any fryers,” Poole said. “But people were missing all the items from the other restaurant. So we had to start adding this, adding that. We’ve just steadily added on.”
The menu now offers fried and grilled catfish, broiled and fried shrimp, fried oysters, grilled chicken breasts, chicken fingers, grilled pork loin, salads and an assortment of appetizers.
But the best-sellers are still the steaks, specifically the 6-ounce and 9-ounce filet mignons. But they also do a brisk business in T-bones, New York strips and rib-eyes.
“I had a table of four order New York strips recently and I hand-cut them myself,” Atkinson said. “The stars aligned just right and I cooked every one of those steaks perfectly. I told the server to tell them that if those weren’t the best steaks they’d ever had, they didn’t have to pay for them, and this was a $100 ticket. Well, they paid the ticket, so I guess it was good.”
No tornado damage
Atkinson Steak House, which is two miles out from Smithville proper, was spared when an F5 tornado roared through last April, killing 16 people and wiping out most of the town.
“We didn’t have any damage at all,” Atkinson said. “We lost power that day but we were able to open the next day and feed people.”
That was music to the ears of customers from Amory, Pontotoc, Tupelo, Fulton, Columbus and several towns in Alabama who regularly dine there.
“I think we’ve had people from every state and every country in here,” said Norma Atkinson, who acts as hostess. “We’ve had them from Argentina, Japan, China and England.”
“They may not can speak English,” he added, “but I can tell when they’re happy.”
Atkinson said he believes the reason his steaks are so popular – some customers have even said they’re as good as or better than those served at the famed Ruth’s Chris Steak House – is his basting sauce and the quality of meat he uses.
“We’re also known for giving more rather than less,” he said. “My 8-ounce steak is bigger than others’ because I cut mine bigger. I cut mine bigger because I want to be sure they get their money’s worth.
“We haven’t been the best success story in the world. We haven’t gotten rich and moved to France. But we’re still in business in a small town in Mississippi.”
Atkinson Steak House
WHERE: 60489 Parham Store Road, Smithville.
DIRECTIONS: When you come into Smithville on
Highway 25 from Fulton or Amory, turn at Coker’s store onto Hatley-Smithville Road and drive 2 miles. Turn left at the flashing yellow light onto Parham Store Road and the restaurant will be about 200 yards on the right.
WHEN: Wednesday-Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.
INFO: (662) 651-7383. Dine in or carry out.