For almost 100 years, a member of the Fokakis family has been selling something good to eat at the corner of North Main Street and West Railroad Street in Hattiesburg. Arthur Fokakis arrived in Mississippi from Greece, unable to speak English, but he built a hand cart from wood scraps and sold fruit to those who walked past. Soon he built an open-front store and added homemade candy to his inventory. Later he passed the store to his sons, and the business continued to grow.
During the war years of the 1940s, the business finally became a restaurant, and when GIs from Camp Shelby took the bus to town, Coney Island Lunch Counter was one of their favorite stops. The menu was simple but just what the guys wanted: hamburgers, hot dogs, and a few simple sandwiches. The line frequently stretched out the door.
That was more than 60 years ago, but little has changed at this classic American diner. The food is simple, freshly prepared to your order, and just plain good. This is the sort of lunch your parents or grandparents enjoyed, and for good reason. The food is timelessly American, the atmosphere is 1950s small Southern town, and most folks are greeted by name when they arrive.
If you come early, expect a great Southern breakfast, cooked to order. Arrive at noon and the place will be filling up. Old-fashioned cheeseburgers will be crowding the grill, and for $1.95, you might as well go ahead and get two. Almost everyone orders the curly fries to go with their sandwich, says Debbie Bardwell, and she should know, as she has been working here for 27 years.
Other favorites include the open-face fried steak sandwich, and it is as steamy hot and delicious as you can imagine. It is deep fried so that it is crispy and crunchy on the outside but still tender and moist on the inside. It’s served on a toasted hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Chili dogs and ham and cheese po-boys are also best sellers.
There’s always a plate lunch to consider. Monday to Wednesday it changes, but expect classics like chicken and dumplings or hamburger steaks with gravy and onions. Thursday and Fridays, the specials are so popular they never change. On Thursday, expect fried chicken or pork chops to choose from, and the plate will be loaded with creamy mashed potatoes, lima beans, and cabbage. On Friday, it’s fried Mississippi catfish, potato salad, baked beans, and a house-made bread pudding that everyone raves about.
There are so few of these wonderful Southern diners left that it’s hard not to think of Coney Island as a treasure, a place to take the kids so they will know what it was like in a small town once upon a time. But this is a viable restaurant that does a good business because it pumps out great food at incredibly low prices.
When you visit Coney Island Lunch Stand, there are a few things you can be assured of: you will be greeted by a friendly face, the food will be really good, and it will be delivered to your table in a timely manner. I must add this final note: when I visited, “The Andy Griffith Show” was on the TV, no kidding.
Visit them at 400 N. Main St., Hattiesburg | 601.582.8513 | Open Monday – Friday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.