September 6, 2002

Sunday dinner six days a week -- for half a century -- that's the story of the Dinner Bell in McComb, Mississippi.

Owner John Lapinto is showing a group anxious people to a huge circular table. They look hungry. It's 11:00 a.m., and the Dinner Bell has just opened for business.

"Dinner is served, folks. Y'all come and go with me," says John. When the dinner bell rings, they come in droves. They come from Ponchatoula. They come from Baton Rouge. They come from New Orleans. They come for melt in your mouth southern fried chicken and all the fixings.

John calls his bill of fare the "Absolute best quality food prepared in the old fashioned home style way -- and lots of it at a real good, reasonable, family affordable price." That's been the mission here from the get-go, and this is a golden year at the Dinner Bell, and not just the golden crust on that southern fried chicken.

They are celebrating 50 years of fabulous food, served boarding house style without the boarding house reach. "The original founder had a boarding house," explains John, "and he thought it was a quick idea to serve the boarders food on a large lazy Susan."

In addition to the chicken and dumplings and black-eyed peas, they serve up fried eggplant to die for. John says the recipe is a closely guarded secret. "Only the lady who fixes the eggplant knows how to do it. The other girls have to work here a long time before we show them the eggplant recipe."

So, I ask, you could say that Dinner Bell is the Coca-Cola of eggplant? "Right, you could say that. We have it locked up in a vault." Good eats in McComb, Mississippi -- the Dinner Bell is open from 11:00 to 2:00, every day but Monday. Group reservations are available for evenings.