James Beard Foundation names Little Rock’s Lassis Inn as an American Classic

The James Beard Foundation has named Lassis Inn in Little Rock, known for its catfish fillets, as one of six 2020 American Classics. (Democrat-Gazette file photos)
The James Beard Foundation has named Lassis Inn in Little Rock, known for its catfish fillets, as one of six 2020 American Classics. (Democrat-Gazette file photos)

The James Beard Foundation has named Little Rock's Lassis Inn as one of six recipients of its 2020 America's Classics Award.

The award goes to locally owned restaurants “that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community,” according to a news release.

More than 100 restaurants across the country that have received the award since the foundation introduced the category in 1998.

Elihue Washington Jr. and Maria Washington bought the venerable restaurant at 518 E. 27th St. in 1990.

Joe and Molassis Watson started the business in 1905 as a sandwich shop that they operated out of their home. (The name was an abbreviation of Molassis.) Joe Watson later added catfish and ribs to the menu.

Watson moved to the current small, royal blue building in 1931; it was moved a short distance in the 1960s to make way for Interstate 30. It was a meeting place for Little Rock civil rights leaders, including Daisy Bates, during the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Lassis Inn was one of the first three inductees into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame in 2017. It’s best known for its fried fish (catfish and buffalo).

The foundation named Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, also one of that first class of Food Hall of Fame inductees, as an American Classic in 2012, making it the first Arkansas restaurant to earn a Beard Award.

The annual James Beard Awards Gala will honor the restaurant and other award recipients May 4 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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