Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 2, 2008
Mr. Catfish1075 Springdale, 927-6666
850 E. Rundberg, 997-7878
Monday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, noon-7pm
David Lott's fried-catfish empire has proven its longevity, with the original location on Springdale (a few blocks east of Airport Boulevard) open going on 14 years now and the Rundberg location (one block east of I-35) open for seven years. Both locations are all about the food, with comfortable but ungussied ambience and decoration; to use the word "funky" wouldn't be a stretch, especially in describing the music. Orders are placed at the counter, and then you wait for your number to be called. Everyone you deal with is friendly and pleasant.
The quasi-Creole menu is detailed on the website, but in short, it offers fried catfish, whitefish (tilapia fillet), shrimp, oysters, chicken strips, and chicken wings as platters, combo platters, po'boys, or buckets, in quantities from three to 30 pieces or more. There's lots of frying happening at either location. Catfish can be had as whole fish, fillet, fillet strip, and nugget.
Boudin is also featured as links or as fried balls (more on those later), by the unit or as a combo meal. Boudin, for the uninitiated, is a spicy Louisiana sausage made from rice, pork, pork liver, and Creole seasonings. Last but not least are the baskets of chicken gizzards, not on the menu, but usually available for $2.99 a basket; a popular item that elicits lots of whining from the crowd when they run out.
All dinners come with a choice of two sides from a lengthy list of options. Gumbo is done as more of a soup than what you might be expecting, but it is delectable as a soup: chicken and sausage at the Rundberg spot, while Springdale was serving chicken, sausage, and shrimp a few days later. Red beans and rice with sausage is nice, though done with pintos instead of small red or kidney beans. Collard greens are spicy and slightly sour, as if they were cooked with some vinegar-green-pepper sauce; we love collards in any form, and they're difficult to find on a menu.
Slaw is fine, dressed here with a vinegar-mayo. Potato salad is mustardy, smooth with chunks, and very tasty. The fries are standard issue, and we didn't try the fresh salad. Fried okra appears to be done in-house and is excellent. Hush puppies are the frozen extruded log type rather than the crunchier round version.
We sampled many of the items at Rundberg by ordering the Super Combo ($15.95) with the gumbo and red beans and rice. Catfish fillet and tilapia are both done in a thickish and spicy cornmeal batter, with the fish inside moist and delicious. Shrimp are butterflied and panko-crusted, sweet and tasty, but a bit too perfect to be battered in-house. For some reason, my three chicken strips turned out to be one chicken wing, and one of my three oysters had decided to leave for parts unknown. The hush puppies aren't my favorite form, but they are convenient for soaking up collard pot liquor and bean juice. The okra is addictive.
We tried catfish and shrimp, chicken strips, slaw and spud salad, gumbo and red beans and rice at Springdale and found them having a slight edge over Rundberg tastewise. The exception is the chicken strips at Springdale, with a very crunchy and thickly battered coating. The meat inside was good but the batter way too thick. Boudin balls (three with fries, $4.99) are wonderful. Cornmeal-coated, fried balls of boudin about the size of a big golf ball, with a meaty, ricey, spicy, steaming interior when you break them open. Anything that entices me to eat liver and love it should be illegal.
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