“Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.” The famous line from the popular 1940’s radio program The Original Amateur Hour comes to mind as diners step into the historic Dinner Bell in the heart of downtown McComb. Once inside, large lazy Susans are piled with every conceivable Southern dish are spinning slowly in the middle of round tables throughout the sprawling restaurant.
On a recent Friday, each table’s lazy Susan is laden with the meat selections of the day, fried chicken and fried catfish, along with traditional accompaniments often found on a Sunday dinner table of a bygone era. Sides like chicken and dumplings, fried okra, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, rice and gravy, butter beans, turnip greens, dumplings, fried eggplant, and homemade cornbread and biscuits shimmer in the noonday sunlight filtering through the 852 windowpanes of the brick structure built in the previous century as a home for a large family.
Food is served family-style, with overflowing platters and bowls placed on the lazy Susan by staff who keep an eye on favorite dishes that are depleted quickly. Diners turn the lazy Susan to get the food they want, serve themselves, and place the dish back on the slowly-rotating disc wherever there’s a space.
Just when diners declare they “couldn’t possibly eat another bite,” a fluffy bowl of banana pudding just like your grandmother used to make is added to the twirling array of delicacies. To add the final touch, chilled pitchers of sweet tea are tucked in between a crowded circle of platters and bowls heaped high with fried chicken and vegetables.
Just as it is around the family dinner table, The Dinner Bell, one of a small number of round-table restaurants left in Mississippi, operates on the same help-yourself, comforting presence of home principle. No apology is necessary for giving the lazy Susan a subtle twirl with one’s hand to bring a favorite dish – or better yet, everything around again.
Owner Andre Davis insists there’s never anything fancy on the restaurant’s menu. There are no unpronounceable entrees, you won't find burgers or specials of the day. However, main dishes like meatloaf, barbecue ribs, pork chops and roast, sliced ham, and turkey rotate throughout various days of the week. Due to customers’ demands, fried chicken is a staple that appears every day along with the restaurant’s signature fried eggplant.
As you might expect, the restaurant makes its cornbread and rolls from scratch. You won’t find anything frozen or microwaved. It’s all homemade, Southern comfort food at its finest like satisfied customers have come to expect.
While the food may be familiar to those fortunate enough to be raised on Southern cuisine, an unusual thing about round-table restaurants is that customers – friends, co-workers, and strangers alike - are seated together at large round tables. While this arrangement might appear awkward to those used to having their own space, the camaraderie generated by the spinning Lazy Susans and family-style presentation is well-received by diners for whom sharing a meal is a novelty.
The round-table concept originated in Mendenhall in Simpson County. Boarding houses, including one in Mendenhall that housed the famed Revolving Tables Restaurant that closed in 2001, found it more efficient to serve large groups of boarders by placing bowls on food on lazy Susans.
Built in the early 1900s as a private residence for the White family that included former Mississippi Governor Hugh White, in 1959 the large brick structure on Fifth Avenue became the final destination of the original Dinner Bell that had opened years earlier in a nearby location. The Dinner Bell was never a boarding house in either location, but it’s close proximity to the train and bus stations made it a popular dining destination for locals as well as out-of-town travelers coming through McComb, Davis said.
As if on cue, a group enters the restaurant. Laughter is accompanied by lighthearted discussion on who will sit by whom and wagers on which members of the group will consume the most fried chicken.
McComb resident Dee Ratcliff, an educator at Alcorn Extension Service in nearby Magnolia, says the restaurant is at the top of her preferred places to host co-workers or out-of-town guests.
“I stop by regularly to enjoy a nice lunch and partake of my favorite dish, the fried eggplant,” said Ratcliff. “And I never have to worry about where to take colleagues visiting my office; they always want to come to the Dinner Bell and I’m happy to oblige.”
If you go:
Location: 229 5th Avenue, McComb
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Evenings by reservation only
Tours and group of 12 or over, call for availability
Price: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: $12.99
Friday & Saturday: $14.99
Children under 10 eat at half price; children under 5 eat free.