Signs outside of the Fratesi Market boast that it sells fuel without added ethanol, but it’s a different kind of fill-up that we’re after. This gas station is a mix of the Creole-Italian café fare you find in Louisiana with some Mississippi Deltas twists. For local color and good food, it’s hard to beat.
Most people come for plate lunch. Every day a different special is featured. We were lucky enough to pass through on fried catfish Friday. The catfish is aromatic, flaky and crunchy on the outside. The dredge has more spices than most — a very good thing. It comes on a pile of some of the richest hushpuppies we’ve tasted. They are small — meaning crunchier — and studded with corn kernels and coarsely cracked black pepper.
Whichever day you happen upon Fratesi, get fried green tomatoes as a side with plate lunch. They are more more savory than average, making dipping sauce unnecessary.
If you’re keen to stick to Deep South gas-station classics, the po’ boy and muffuletta menu at Fratesi is worth exploring. The bread on both is quite different from what you’ll find in New Orleans. It is pale, practically under-baked, and a tad sour. It also is much smaller than the average city loaf, meaning that an entire po’ boy is easily finished. Considering the bread, the meatball po’ boy is more like a sub, really, but it’s a superb one.
The muffuletta loaf deviates even further from Louisiana. Unlike the spongy, sesame rich loaves in New Orleans, this bread is something like dense ciabatta. It is tasty itself, its dense texture resisting absorption of oil from a wonderful, zesty house dressing and olive salad. Muffuletta purists may cringe, but we’re open-minded (clueless) enough to appreciate the heresy. We might actually prefer it to “correct” versions.
A couple of added bonuses: the seating area is unusually comfortable and well-maintained for a “service station” and the mini-mart is exceptional. Often, these sorts of shops are poorly maintained because most effort is devoted to the sandwiches. Not here. Even if you’re not ready for hot food, Fratesi is a worthwhile place to stop for a cold drink, live bait, ammo, and a thorough selection of local spices and sauces. If you’re feeling particularly sociable, grab a tall can from the case, and have a beer with some locals.