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Catfish are Jumping at the Corner
by Matthew Amster-Burton
August 24, 2001 (Seattle Times)
Every Seattleite gets sucked into the fried-fish debate sooner or later. Spud? Sunfish? One of the Pike Place Market stands?
None of the above, I maintain, having fallen for the crisp strips of catfish at the Central District's venerable Catfish Corner. Not a drop of grease remains on the miraculously light cornmeal coating. Plus, they serve a fish-and-hush-puppies combo called "bits and pups." What's not to like?
The Corner also has hamburgers (the only people ordering them were kids who probably would have liked the fish just fine), chicken wings and red snapper, but come on, the place is called Catfish Corner. The whiskered fish is available whole, filleted, or in the aforementioned bits, and all servings come with a tangy homemade tartar sauce.
Catfish Corner is a jars-for-sale restaurant: If you like the tartar sauce, you can take a jar home. As a class, restaurants that sell jars of a signature product are unprepossessing joints bursting with down-home pride. "We can't help it," they seem to say. "This stuff is plain great." The pride here is not misplaced, although if there were a way to put the cornmeal batter in a jar instead, they'd sell a jar with every order.
With its location on a busy Central District corner and its tall windows on two sides, the Corner is a natural spot for people-watching. You won't be distracted by the decor, because there isn't any beyond a tank of catfish (display models only). It's suitable for a large group (or a large family) or a solo diner, and on any given night you'll see plenty of both.
Orders are taken at the counter and brought to your table (they also do a brisk takeout business), and the wall-mounted menu is one of those plastic movable-type models that seem to be favored by the restaurants least likely to change their menus. The counter help is always friendly, and even on an 80-degree day when it must have been 100 degrees in the kitchen, I caught the cook smiling.
The array of side dishes is about what you'd expect: a heap of coleslaw ($1.75), a sweet cornbread muffin (35 cents), collard greens, potato salad, beans and rice ($1.25 small, $2.25 large), and fries. Of these, the best were the light and crunchy slaw and the greens; I found the beans bland and the corn muffin too sweet. The fish is also available as a dinner combo with a muffin, beans, and potato salad or slaw.
On a Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to nab the last portion of the popular oven-braised Cajun catfish filet, but if you don't catch the Tuesday special, fear not: Friday and Saturday feature the carp-like buffalo fish, and Wednesday is gumbo night. Each clearly has its followers, so if you become addicted to the Cajun (and this is a real danger), you may end up making a new group of friends.
Cajun-style catfish: It's only available on Tuesday and may take a few minutes extra, but this oven-braised filet with a spicy, buttery sauce is a real treat. Not only is it five bucks, but it comes with four crunchy hush puppies.
Catfish fillet and fries: The fries are frozen crinkle-cuts, but the catfish is fresh, moist and battered with a cornmeal crust so delicate and flavorful that I found myself thinking about the many other things that could be dipped in it and fried.
Collard greens: You can dip those "pups" in the broth of these soupy ham-studded greens, which came alive with a bit of salt and a squeeze of the vinegar bottle.
Candied yams: How else to end a Southern-style meal? These fresh yams were swimming in syrup and spicy with nutmeg.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Cajun-style catfish: $4.99
Catfish fillet and fries: $5.49
Collard greens: $2.25
Cole slaw: $1.75
Candied yams: $2.99
Iced tea: $1.25
2726 E. Cherry St. (northwest corner of Cherry and MLK Jr. Way)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
MasterCard and Visa / no liquor / no obstacles to access.