Photos | Daniel Anderson
“With a pond next to the parking lot and a gumball machine selling turtle food in the lobby, we felt we were barking up the right tree.”
Catfish are sort of a big deal to me. I guess it’s more of a Mississippi thing than it is in Alabama; we just don’t have very many catfish houses around here. Back when I was chasing Katie around trying to convince her to move to Mobile, I would often hear stories of her lunch hours being spent at Charlie’s Catfish in Ellisville, Mississippi, just off the interstate on U.S. Route 15. Those stories would often conjure up feelings of jealousy mixed with pride that the girl knows her catfish.
You can tell real catfish fans by how they order. It’s never filets except for the kiddie menu. True lovers of catfish settle for nothing less than whole catfish. That gritty batter, a little salty — it’s a lot of work until you get the hang of it. As a seasoned diner you can zip right through a fish or two with ease. The crispy fins are like potato chips to me. The skeleton adds flavor to the flesh that is lacking in filets, but for certain the best part of the catfish, to me, is the collar. That curled bit of meat where the head used to be is farm-raised gold.
So when a couple of Mississippi kids who now proudly call Mobile home get a craving for catfish, it’s hard to stop them. We nosed around the pages of eateries and telephone apps and found Catfish Junction just a hop, skip and a jump away in Saraland.
With a pond next to the parking lot and a gumball machine selling turtle food in the lobby, we felt we were barking up the right tree. Led to a table past the banquet room, where a seminar on energy saving or something similar (we never got a straight answer) was holding the attention of some 10-15 of our neighbors to the north, the dining room we found was perhaps even better than what you might expect. Catfish houses aren’t normally the fanciest of all the structures in your community but this one was nice enough.
The signature opener at Catfish Junction is hush puppies with Rotel cheese dip. This is a practice of which I am fond and can report that Jordan’s Catfish just across the state line on Highway 45 is another establishment that employs this technique. Today the flavor was just right. White cornmeal is always the way to my heart, but though these were tasty they had a bit of sogginess to them, usually curable by turning up the heat on the oil. Dunked in cheese, it made little difference. We ate them happily.
Our first order was something called Smothered Taters ($8.59). We know scattered and smothered very well. This is more like the Crazy Fries of the Prichard scene. French fries piled high were topped with shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, green onions. They could’ve stopped there but they didn’t. Pulled pork, spicy ranch dressing and house barbecue sauce added to the ridiculousness of it all.
This would be great in a dorm room full of stoners and college kids just returning from a keg party. It’s good but a little too much for the adult in me, but these crazy and stupid fries are a thing now. It’s a mountain of food if you’re looking for a value, and your kids are sure to love them.
Swamp Soup ($3.99 per cup) is Catfish Junction’s nod to seafood gumbo. The menu says they “throw in almost everything you’d find in the bayou.” It is a little different, which I guess is why they don’t call it gumbo, but it is a roux-based soup with seafood, served with crackers and hot sauce.
We were treating every dish as if it were family style, so lines were blurred as to which of us ordered what, but officially I hung my name on the Fried Gulf Oysters ($18.99). More a flour batter than cornmeal, over a dozen oysters covered the plate and maintained that medium to smaller size I love. Katie helped herself to a few and I enjoyed a spoonful of sweet baked beans. The better side item was the coleslaw, which had me fumbling for the remaining hush puppies.
On record Katie ordered the Deep South Duo ($18.99), with her choices fried whole catfish and fried shrimp. The shrimp had some sort of batter that differed from the fish or the oysters. They were still good, just the right size, meaning very large and not overdone. The accompanying whole catfish was the best of all the proteins. Fried crispy and in the right batter, it hit the spot most of all.
Most surprising was that Catfish Junction had a small beer and wine list and I was able to enjoy a not-too-shabby pinot grigio with my meal after the preliminary round of sweet tea (I only drink sweet tea with catfish, for some reason).
If we were giving this place a grade, I’d have to say it’s about a B. Even though there are a few things I would prefer different, I would be inclined to return or at least recommend. It’s better than some of the reviews online, but you know how that goes. I did enjoy the catfish, slaw and hush puppies. Can’t we just admit that’s what this is really about?