- FRIED RIGHT: Chicken strips, catfish and a crawfish po-boy all impressed at Eat My Catfish.
We long for the South Arkansas catfish joints of our youth. You know the ones: the ramshackle old houses with low ceilings, wood paneling and family photos on the wall. Where grease has long since left its mark on kitchen ceilings and ketchup bottles. Where the fish comes only two ways (fillets or whole) and is served with complimentary sides. Those places are getting harder and harder to find as restaurants tend toward sleek design and the price of catfish creeps ever upward.
Eat My Catfish is not one of those places, but it'll do in a pinch. The new Little Rock location follows successful openings in Benton (2012) and Conway (2014). Owner Travis Hester has watched his enterprise grow from food truck to franchise in a little over eight years. And the product is impressive.
The well-seasoned fried catfish fillets are thin; we prefer these smaller fillets to the bigger variety served up at, say, the Flying Fish (although we'd give the latter a better grade on atmosphere). Smaller fillets mean more seasoning and cornmeal per bite and are less likely to taste fishy. They're also easier to handle and you can eat a bunch of 'em. Who among us doesn't feel some sense of pride for downing a few pieces of catfish in one sitting? We don't go out for it often enough and there's something special about nicely fried fillets that invites a bit of overindulgence.
Choosing what to order can be a bit daunting — there's more than just catfish — and diners order upon arrival. For the indecisive, go with the "try-it-all," the chicken, catfish and shrimp combo ($14.89). It's heaven for fried finger-food lovers. This basket comes with two pieces of catfish, two chicken strips (although we swear ours had at least four), six pieces of fried shrimp, a side dish and hushpuppies. It's a tall order, but share this and one other plate with your partner and you get to taste just about everything in one go.
The presentation isn't much — everything comes crammed in a basket. But as our mother used to say, "It ain't the Four Seasons." It's worth noting that the chicken strips are pretty exceptional. We consider ourselves a chicken digit connoisseur and these hit a lot of marks. The meat is good: big breast strips, breaded in what seems to be a cross between cornmeal batter and a more flour-based coating. It works. Catfish places often have great chicken strips, and Eat My Catfish is no exception.
The fried shrimp were also quite good. The batter was light, well seasoned (if maybe a bit salty), and the shrimp were cooked perfectly. It's easy to over-fry shrimp but these gave way easily to the teeth and held on to their flavor. It says something for the cooking that one can eat all these fried things at once and not leave feeling greasy and gross, which we didn't. Everything is tastefully done and light, as far as fried stuff goes.
Tossed in beer batter and fried up to a golden orangey hue, the fries are a solid side. We wish we could say the same for the coleslaw. A good catfish joint needs good coleslaw. This dish was of the chopped variety and just lacked that fresh, tangy crunch you look for as a complement to fried fillets. It's passable, but it's just not up to snuff with the other offerings.
A recent trip to south Louisiana spoiled us on po-boys but we thought we'd give one a shot. The crawfish po-boy ($8) is tasty, though a bit different from what we're used to. Instead of lettuce, tomato and mayo, it's topped with coleslaw and the restaurant's Fire Cracker sauce (which seems to be a cross between remoulade and tartar sauce). It's creamy, pink and has a hint of spice. Eat My Catfish serves up these seafood sandwiches on porous French bread (toasted just right). The fried crawfish were everything they're supposed to be: rich, crispy and a tad spicy. This sandwich is a winner. All the ingredients work well and the portion size is near perfect — satisfying, but you won't have to take a nap after.
Just about everything at Eat My Catfish is well executed. The menu has enough variety that there's something for everyone. The atmosphere is bright, clean and new. The staff is super friendly and the prices are reasonable for the quality of the food. It's not going to blow your mind, but it's not going to give anyone much to complain about either. We'd call it unremarkable if the fish weren't so good.
Eat My Catfish
10301 N. Rodney Parham (Breckenridge Village)
1205 Military Road No. 7
2125 Harkrider St.
If you're looking for lighter options, there aren't many, but Eat My Catfish does serve up peel-and-eat boiled shrimp. Try an order as an appetizer before all the fried stuff hits the table. Another pro tip: The restaurant caters, so if you're looking to not do all the cooking for your next party, there's nothing Eat My Catfish offers that wouldn't be a crowd-pleaser.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Beer and wine. Credit cards accepted.