There are two ways I would like my cold, lifeless corpse to be found in the morning: sitting on the toilet, hand clutching my heart, greasy bloodstream full of homemade barbiturates or, much more preferably, sitting on the toilet, hand clutching my heart, an empty to-go box from Beef and Buns, Mr. Catfish resting near my bloated feet.
Besides having a name based on the greatest children’s book never written, Beef and Buns, Mr. Catfish is the type of fast food joint that, in a fair and just world, would be on every corner of every block instead of a McDonald’s. Situated in what looks to be an abandoned Captain D’s at 2741 N.E. 23rd St., the ambiance is saved by the rather large anatomically correct cow standing guard out front, welcoming patrons with a testicular gusto those bovine Chick-Fil-A eunuchs could only dream of.
It’s a plaster mission statement that is dutifully carried through into the simple enough menu, a downhome affair that pretty much lives up to the establishment’s name by offering four things and four things only: fried catfish, BBQ ribs, smoked meat and smoked chicken; the drive-thru was hopping and there was a seemingly endless parade of neighborhood regulars picking up to-go orders in time for the big game.
With the very welcomed smell of seasoned grease permeating my clothes after only a few minutes, I knew that I wanted to taste their famous catfish and ribs, so, natch, I ordered up a Catfish and Rib Dinner ($14.99) to go, which, heartbreakingly, was a might incomplete as they had just ran out of ribs for the day a few minutes earlier. Mildly daunted, I was allowed to sub in a few pieces of their spicy smoked chicken instead, rounding that already bulging Styrofoam container out with a healthy helping of French fries and fried okra because that five-way bypass can’t come soon enough, ya dig?
Throwing on a piece of lemon cake to the bill on the way out, when I popped the lid for dinner about an hour later, the far-too-long contained blast of steam welcomed me like a vaporous maitre d', inviting me to start with one of the cornmeal-breaded pieces of catfish, peppery and crisp with a solid earthy taste that reminded me of those old-school Baptist church fish-fries I’d attend growing up in small town Texas. It was a nostalgically rural flavor that, praise Jesus, I got to experience three more times this evening.
This is how catfish should be done.
Digging into that smoked chicken, the thick, pasty rub of Spanish paprika, a liberal mix of chile powders and God knows what else secret tongue-searing spices crafted a damn-near perfect alchemic culinary concoction, elevating this chicken into a sensually desirous bar of edible gold, ready to be exploited and enjoyed. These generous cuts of poultry retained both their heat and moistness, gently (but firmly) saying “Cálmate!” until there was nothing left other than a pile of divining bones that predicted a return visit very soon.
As for the sides, the Fries and okra weren’t all that homemade but, you know, I was okay with it as that slice of sweet and tart lemon cake provided the most relevant of epilogues for this five-star fast food meal; when it comes to the drive-thru, skip the corporate burgers and other mainstream traditional fare, consumed simply because it’s there. Go those extra few miles, both here and in life, to Beef and Buns, Mr. Catfish for the most justifiable excuse to destroy your body that God himself could ever bestow upon a man. ¡Cómpralo ya!
Apparently Mr. Catfish sells used cars too. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.