Hank Malouf remembers how he and his dad, Tom Malouf, mourned so grievously when AJ Catfish Restaurant on Himes Avenue closed up.
"There was just no place you could get good, fresh catfish anymore," he says, "and there was absolutely no place where you could get good catfish as well as good homemade barbeque and the kind of home cooked food we had where my dad and I grew up in Mississippi and my mom (Holly) in Alabama. And that was a problem."
So with a lot of help and a lot of love from his family — parents, his sisters Genevieve and Tiffany, his brother TJ and his Uncle Charlie Malouf — he built Hank's BBQ Catfish and More property his father owns on North Dale Mabry Highway between Humphrey Street and Waters Avenue, next to Enterprise Auto Rental.
And if you go there, you can't miss it. Look for a framed building, with a metal roof and with the classic architectural style of a Mississippi juke joint. The front end of a chubby pink pig will greet you as you enter the parking lot while the hind end of the same pig will usher you on your way as you leave. There is a takeout window, and cabbage and collard greens grow in the flower beds around the pig's feet.
Inside you are greeted by that unmistakably heavenly aroma of smoke, meat and barbecue sauce.
On the walls hang old family photos, plows, tractor parts, plus stuffed fish and game. If you grew up in the country or in a small town in the Deep South, you will think you've gone 50 years back in time. Old-fashioned bottled soda pop is available out of an old ice box along with your meal of ribs, sausage, brisket, chicken, catfish or shrimp.
I thought that they didn't make Royal Crown Cola and Nehi Soda anymore, but Hank's has it. Collard greens are cooked fresh every day, as is Holly's homemade banana pudding, along with other more conventional side dishes such as beans, macaroni and cheese, french fries and cole slaw.
"Everything we cook is cooked right here," Hank says. "All the ingredients are fresh and our meet is always cooked fresh, not frozen. There are no shortcuts. We cook everything fresh, just like you would at home. It's a lot of hours, but it's very rewarding.
"And it's not just the ingredients: Everything we do has personalization, character and love in it. This is our family and everybody here cares."
Dwayne Bishoff says, "This pulled pork is so good, it doesn't even need any sauce."
"Yeah, but we offer six different sauces anyway," Hank says.
Chase Kearney enjoys the ribs and says, "They are so juicy and the flavor is perfect."
Hank is awed and humbled by how "people have just supported us from the very start."
So, if you want to put a little of the South in your mouth, Hank's BBQ Catfish and More, at 8546 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., is the place to do it. And yes, they have everything on the menu for take out by calling (813) 936-5555.