According to Stephen Sheehan, in the South the word delacata means “premium catfish.” However in Eugene, Delacata is the place to go for catfish; a gleaming black trailer adorned with its namesake, owned by Sheehan and his wife Colleen.
A Mississippi native, Sheehan used to toil in the business world for companies like JP Morgan, but after having trouble getting a job in his field here in Eugene, he and his wife decided to open a southern-focused food cart. They put their money together, ordered a cart from a company in Independence, Oregon, and set out to be their own bosses. “I’ve worked a lot of jobs,” says Sheehan. “And this is the hardest but the most fulfilling job I’ve had.”
Sheehan arrives at the corner of 8th and Olive Tuesday through Friday at around 4:45 am to secure the parking spaces he needs for the cart. He heads back home, returning at 10:30, to finish prep work for the lunch business, serving from 11am to 2:30pm. At 4:45 pm, he loads up the trailer and pulls it down to 19th and Agate in the Sun Automotive parking lot for dinner service from 6 to 10 pm. After closing, he dumps waste, cleans, and drives home — only to do it all again the next day. Sunday nights they set up at the tasting room at Ninkasi Brewery, taking only Saturday and Monday off.
“We’ve been open four months and it’s been crazy, crazy busy,” says Sheehan. Since opening they have hired three additional employees. “We were going to do it all ourselves for a year and I just can’t believe how blessed we are because it’s been so fast.”
One taste of Delacata’s catfish and it’s easy to see why they’ve been so busy. Cornmeal battered, the fish is unlike any other in town – delicate and flaky. Served piping hot out of the fryer with ridiculously good cheddar-jalapeno hush puppies and cilantro lime coleslaw, the catfish is so delicious it’s almost impossible not to burn your mouth; too delicious to let it cool.
Also on the menu is a southern fried chicken kabob served with rosemary sea salt fries and Sheehan’s legendary collard greens, cajun shrimp with cheesy garlic grits, deep fried pickle chips, and a deep fried Nathan’s hot dog.
“People kept asking me for a hot dog, because there was a hot dog guy that was here, and I was like – uh, I don’t want to do any boiled hot dog,” says Sheehan. But after deciding to try them deep fried, they turned out to be a hit. Sheehan says he also has regulars that come just for his greens and others that eat the catfish on a daily basis.
Besides the catfish which is flown in twice weekly direct from Mississippi, all of Delacata’s produce is local. A recent special featured chanterelle gravy; the mushrooms picked by Sheehan, his wife, and employee Jimmy Swartz.
In addition to their regular locations, Delacata has been seen at a few festivals over the summer – a plan Sheehan says they’ll continue next year. They also recently held a crawfish boil at Ninkasi, and event they hope to make an annual affair.
Stop by the cart for a dose of southern hospitality and delicious food!
Jackie Varriano is a Eugene-based writer who would fight someone for the last order of Delacata’s catfish. Keep up with her at seejackwrite.tumblr.com.