Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cajun Catfish House

Get ready to come with me to St. Martins, Missouri, out by VFW Post 35, where our destination today is the venerable Cajun Catfish House! You might look at the place skeptically and think, Hmmm, it looks like a little hole-in-the-wall. But trust me on this, okay?

But first of all, I have to make a confession: I lied. The lady who waited on us asked why I was taking pictures of the food on my plate, and she specifically asked if I was doing a review, and I said no. That was on June 23. Lady, if you’re reading this, I apologize for lying to you.

But the reason why I feel okay about this is that I don’t have the time to review restaurants I hate—so she need fear me not. In the course of my “reviews,” I might make suggestions, I might mention a few things I wish could change, and I might poke fun at quirky details . . . but I’m not going to waste my precious time writing about a restaurant I seriously wouldn’t tell you to go to.

So! I don’t know a lot about the history of this place, but it’s been there quite some time, and they seem to do a good business. Keep reading for my favorite Cajun Catfish House story. But first, the review I said I wouldn’t write.

When you step in the door, you’ll notice something: It doesn’t smell fishy in there. It smells clean and good. This is a good sign at a catfish joint, just as it is for a fine sushi restaurant.

When you look around, you’ll see that they’ve been collecting fish statuettes and have decorated the place, appropriately enough, with the requisite fishnets and what-all. But it’s not cluttered. It’s clean in here.

I didn’t photograph or memorize the menu, but they do have a decent selection of foods for your friends who aren’t into fish. But why talk about that, when you’re here for the catfish?

We both got the six-piece catfish plate, which came with a choice of two sides and a choice of either a corn muffin or a couple of hush puppies. The waiter brought us a basket (obviously straight out of a refrigerator in back, meaning this stuff doesn’t sit around) with squeeze bottles of their own Cajun ranch and tartar sauces, cocktail sauce, and ketchup.

First, the sides: We had red beans and rice, coleslaw, dirty rice, and green beans. I guess some people, in our supersized society, would want more, bigger portions, and with more care put into the side dishes. But I was fine with the quantities (they did have larger platters available), and the quality was decent enough: The red beans were stewy and comforting, a nice foil for the crispness of the fried fish. The rice was tender and rather peppery, but like the red beans they weren’t overly spicy.

If you’re not interested much in “hot” foods, this is a Cajun-themed restaurant you can enjoy. And if you can’t appreciate food that’s not fiery, then maybe you need to partake of that bottle of Tabasco on the table.

I’m not saying the food isn’t spicy here—it’s just not fiery (at all).

On to the fish, which is the big deal here: It was crispy and perfectly cooked. Not greasy. The breading was nicely spiced and definitely goes beyond the standard breading seasoned with salt and pepper—a nice heat.

I think that one of the reasons why the fish is so often perfectly cooked here is that they use a timer back there in the kitchen; no guesswork. We kept hearing it go off: Beep, beep, beep. (But it wasn’t distracting.)

For dessert, we had the chocolate pie: Mmmm. Not too sweet. Nice and cold. Hit the spot. Sue purred and said it reminded her of her grandma’s. (Well, you can’t get much higher praise for a pie than that!)

Two six-piece catfish dinners (thus four sides), two iced teas, one slice of pie: Twenty-six dollars, not counting the tip. And yes, friendly, good service, pleasant though not upscale atmosphere, and two happy, satisfied diners.

No one’s going to drive for many hours to get to Cajun Catfish House, but for us locals, it’s a spot to relax and enjoy a lot more than the perfectly cooked catfish—it’s a place to enjoy a good-quality diner, some laid-back local color, and the company of other friendly mid-Missourians.


Now here’s that little story I promised you. It’s not a huge deal, but the story goes like this: When my Grandma S was getting old and blind, my dad and uncle enjoyed taking her on little outings, which she dearly loved, and one day they drove her clear out to St. Martins and the Cajun Catfish House.

Grandma ordered a beer—probably some Budweiser or Miller product, right?—and when the waiter brought it, Grandma protested: “Hey! There’s no head on this beer! What kind of beer is this? It’s flat!” The waiter, bless her heart, poured her a new mug, and made sure there was a big frothy head on it.

Pretty nice to humor a ninety-year-old beer snob, huh? Ha ha ha.

I think about that story every time we go to Cajun Catfish House.

Cajun Catfish House on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Ok educate this little Scot. Hush Puppies here are fabulous soft shoes, n fact have a brand name all their own. What are edible Hush Puppies lol Jackie

Julie said...

Oh! We have those kind of Hush Puppies, too. But the kind I'm talking about are a common accompaniment to American (particularly southern) fried-fish dinners. They're made sort of like cornbread, only they're usually seasoned with onions and perhaps peppers and other herbs. They're formed into little balls and deep-fried.

Hard to believe they haven't caught on in Scotland, where I hear that people enjoy all things deep-fried! Here's the Wikipedia address for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hushpuppy. And you can find all kinds of recipes for them on the Internet.

To really impress your friends, next time you're frying fish, fry up some of these as well as some fried okra! (Don't forget to put on some twangy banjo music!) (By the way, I recently learned that comedian Steve Martin released a new CD of banjo music--it's good--check it out!)