We used to occasionally find our way to Grampa's Catfish and Seafood in the 1980s. It was on Mission Road in the semi-wilds of upper North Little Rock, not exactly the beaten path. And getting there in the pre-Siri, even pre-Mapquest, days wasn't easy. But it was worth it to scarf platters of perfectly cooked catfish fillets.
We remember being a bit sad hearing Grampa's had closed in 2012 after 42 years in business. So when, about a year ago, we heard longtime co-owners Nate (dad) and Scott (son) Townsend were resurrecting Grampa's on Maumelle Boulevard, which certainly is the beaten path, we considered that very good news.
We were right.
We popped in early Sunday evening, and we were greeted warmly — a couple of times, actually — by Nate Townsend himself. It was a blistering 94 degrees outside, but nice and cool inside the former Mi Burrito with plenty of fans helping the hard-working A/C.
Kaylee, our extremely pleasant waitress, arrived with a bowl of slaw and two plates — an opening lagniappe similar to the ubiquitous chips and salsa at Mexican joints. It was better than average slaw — green cabbage with purple cabbage and carrot accents liberally dosed with a mayo-based dressing. It kept us busy as we briefly waited on our main course, the catfish, chicken and shrimp combo ($16.99 with one side).
Grampa's touts that everything is cooked when ordered. Great, we thought, so were a bit surprised when our entree emerged only 10 minutes after we ordered it. The combo comes with one whole catfish fillet, eight nice-sized fried shrimp and three smallish chicken fingers. We chose fried okra as our side and got half a plateful. We also added "mashed taters," as the menu calls them ($1.99).
The catfish is on a par with the best in town, but it frankly has gotten pretty easy to find good catfish given the high quality and wide availability of premium fish. We really liked it, but it was the fried shrimp that shone the brightest. The key: It's hand-breaded and fried to order. So much of the fried shrimp you get around here comes straight from the freezer. Not at Grampa's. The light batter was black pepper-flecked, and the shrimp were cooked just the right amount of time. They basically were perfect, the equal to the fried shrimp at Doe's, our other favorite. Sold alone, the shrimp is $7.99 for a quarter-pound and $10.99 for a half-pound (no-brainer on which one to order!), but we don't know how many shrimp those quantities represent. We'll be finding out.
The chicken strips transcend the usual as well, again because they're hand-cut, hand-battered and cooked to order. Like with the shrimp, the batter features black pepper, and the breast fillets were exceedingly juicy and tender. You can get four of the tenders with a side for $7.99 or six for $9.99.
The mashed potatoes were also made from scratch with plenty of butter and milk, and the red skins were included. They were our favorite restaurant mashed potatoes ever. By contrast, the okra was not homemade. It was a decent food-service product and cooked well, but that stuff can only be so good. (We saw the onion rings pass by, and they definitely are from a freezer bag.) Two hush puppies come with the combo platter. We found them too light — both in color and texture — without much taste.
We managed to save room for fried pies, opting for peanut butter/chocolate and coconut cream ($3.49 with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream). Chocolate was the dominant flavor in that pie, though the peanut butter was discernable. Both pies had a high filling-to-crust quotient, and the rapidly melting ice cream was a nice touch.
We're glad Grampa's is back. And though catfish comes first in the name, it's the shrimp that will bring us back soon.
Grampa's Catfish & Seafood
11608 Maumelle Blvd.
North Little Rock
Note that catfish strips (not fillets) are available at a lower price on the lunch menu, which is available 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Beer, including local brews, and wine available.