Finding Nemo’s Southern Cousin

tom's home cookinI am heavily influenced by what I read in books, especially when it comes to food.  For example, a couple of weeks ago, I read a mystery called The Lost Ones by one of my favorite authors, Ace Atkins. The series is about a former Army Ranger who returns to his roots in a small town in Mississippi and becomes sheriff. Since this isn’t a book review, I won’t tell you how much I liked the book, though I will offer the link so you can decide for yourself.

However, in what almost seemed like a theme, throughout the book, the characters ate fried catfish. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many scenes took place over a plate of fried catfish. There was even a discussion by some of the characters about how you can tell if a person eating the fried catfish is a Yankee because he or she will use a knife and fork. Southerners use their fingers.

I don’t know if that is true. But what I can tell you is that since I read that book, I have been hungry for fried catfish.

In the past, I would have called up one of my friends and we would have gone to M&D’s Barbecue for some fried catfish. Unfortunately, that restaurant closed several years ago because the owners apparently didn’t pay their taxes. Kids, always pay your taxes.

Since they closed, I have been completely lost in my attempts to find good southern food, specifically barbecued ribs and fried catfish. But I was reminded in the past week or so that there is a restaurant in the Five Points area near downtown Denver that offers really good southern food, including fried catfish.

Bill and I considered taking light rail to Tom’s Home Cookin’ as there is a train stop steps away from the front door. But it would involve a change of trains and Bill is busy painting everything in our house that doesn’t run away from him (I try to keep moving to be safe), so he didn’t want to take that much time. So we drove. It took probably twice as long. What can I say?

Well, one thing I can say is that the restaurant was amazing. It is such a good example of a couple of guys having a REALLY good idea and carrying out that idea in sublime fashion. The menu changes daily, except for a few items (such as fried catfish and fried chicken). Each day offers a simple menu. You choose your main dish (today choices included meatloaf, roast beef and gravy, barbecued pork, as well as the standard catfish and chicken). You choose two sides and your choice of beverage (which includes sweetened iced tea). You order at a counter. They don’t take credit cards. You aren’t allowed to have a person save a table; it’s first come, first served. And absolutely NO USE OF CELL PHONES IS ALLOWED, as it is a very small restaurant. They are opened Monday through Friday from 11 to 3. Period.

It sounds very crabby, but the two guys who own the restaurant and work the counter couldn’t possibly be friendlier or nicer. The line yesterday, and apparently every day, was out the door at 11:30. People of every age, gender, nationality, color, and economic background were represented. Suits, shorts, skirts, and jeans.

My catfish was delicious and I was a very happy diner. I am not offering a restaurant review, though I would give Tom’s a good one. I’m just impressed that a couple of guys had such a good idea and are apparently so successful. God bless America!

During Lent last year, I got a notion to make my own fried catfish on a Friday instead of going out for our standby cheese pizza. I used a recipe supplied by Food Network’s The Neely’s, and, if I must say so myself, my result was very good. It’s just that any time you have to fry anything, it involves a lot of cleanup. And I always worry way too much about where I’m going to go with the leftover grease. It seems easier just to eat out.

Nevertheless, I am going to provide you with the recipe so that you can enjoy yourself some fried catfish. A side of macaroni and cheese, some cornbread, and spicy collards provides just about the perfect Lenten meal. (Well, except for the Lenten sacrifice part.)

By the way, I ALWAYS eat my catfish with my fingers. How else?

Memphis-Styled Fried Catfish, courtesy Patrick and Gina Neely and Food Networkkris fried catfish meal


1 c. yellow cornmeal

1 T. paparika

1 t. cayenne pepper

¾ c. buttermilk

1 T. hot sauce

4 catfish fillets, skin and bones removed, rinsed and patted dry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peanut oil for frying


Preheat a deep-fryer to 375 degrees.

Mix the cornmeal, paprika and cayenne in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, add the buttermilk and the hot sauce. Season the catfish with salt and pepper. Dredge in the buttermilk and then the cornmeal and spice mixture.

Drop carefully in the hot oil. Fry for 4 minutes until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined sheet tray. Season with salt and pepper.

Nana’s Notes: I used a skillet with a couple of inches of oil in it rather than a deep fryer. It worked fine. The Neelys offered a recipe for a remoulade sauce, but if I can’t dip my catfish in hot sauce, why bother? I made collard greens and homemade cornbread, and it was delicious.


5 thoughts on “Finding Nemo’s Southern Cousin

  1. Sometimes I can’t find catfish at the grocery store. There must be a season? Tom’s Home Cookin sounds wonderful. I love their dining rules!

  2. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Reinie’s love for catfish was such that we trecked all over Las Vegas once searching relentlessly for a place that served catfish WITH THE HEAD STILL ON. No, he didn’t actually consume the head. That’s only what it took to prove to him it was “real catfish”. I can picture him in heaven contentedly finishing a meal of whole catfish and the head smiling back at him as he proudly leaves it on the plate and walks away. Jesus also loves the fishermen.

  3. Yes, we found catfish galore, but none with their heads still on. I noticed he savored every morsel, even licked his fingers. So, he left that restaurant a happy man, in spite of the headless catfish.

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