ROBERT ST. JOHN: Country 35 Diner serves up good food

Restaurateurs’ personality profiles run the gamut – buttoned-down straight-laced business types, off-the-wall bohemians, and everything in between. It’s usually in the “in between” where one finds the best of the lot. Last week I met one of those characters.

On a remote South Mississippi two-lane road, just north of the Louisiana state line on U.S. Highway 35, sits the Country 35 Diner.

I had been hearing about the owner of the Country 35 Diner for a couple of years.

This past Saturday, I met Candia Love, and what followed was one of the more memorable breakfasts I’ve enjoyed this year. The food was good. The setting was unique. The company was exceptional.

Candia Love (most people mistakenly call her Candy), a razor-sharp, spirited, African-American woman, and a native of Clinton, was a 17-year veteran of the accounting department of a pizza franchise company when she decided she wanted to open a restaurant in Jackson. Before opening she agreed to follow her husband to the tiny South Mississippi hamlet of Foxworth for the summer. That was nine years ago. She’s still there.

After a few weeks in town, she walked in to a small diner and the owners asked, “Are you that lady from Jackson who’s looking to open a restaurant?”

“They pretty much just gave me the keys and said, ‘Here you go, we want to go to the house,’” Love said. “I’m looking around at these moose heads and turtle heads on the wall and thinking what in the world?”

Love has an infectious laugh, an innate penchant for storytelling, and the trait that all successful independent restaurateurs possess – the hospitality gene.

The Country 35 Diner (the name of the business when she purchased it from the previous owners) specializes in catfish, rabbit and rutabagas. I was there for a late Saturday morning breakfast with my mother and son. Over biscuits and conversation with the ebullient Love, we were still seated at lunchtime.

As the breakfast shift morphed into an early lunch, a piece of fried rabbit and a small bowl of rutabagas appeared at my table, and I pushed the eggs, bacon and biscuits aside. The rabbit was tender and juicy.

It took me 51 years to eat a rutabaga, not because I didn’t want to eat them, but because the opportunity never presented itself.

One doesn’t have to like rabbit or rutabagas to eat at the Country 35 Diner. There are all of the usual country-cooking suspects. But a visit to the diner without an extended table visit with Love would almost be a wasted trip.”

Robert St.John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.

Robert St. John

Click video to hear audio