Thursday, February 14, 2013

Catfish with a Side Of Local Culture

In some areas of Southwest Illinois, catfish fritters are a long  and tasty tradition. Monday, I was at a diner that just opened up in my town, and had a great plate of fried catfish.

Catfish are native to the Mississippi River, but the catfish served in restaurants are typically raised on farm hatcheries or caught in ponds.

 (It's common to be asked in restaurants that serve catfish , "Farm or pond?", I usually go with pond raised, it's a richer flavor). I love the flaky texture and juiciness of catfish, and to me it tastes much better than most other varieties of fish. Typically catfish fritters are served with some combination of coleslaw, fries and/or hush puppies on the side. 

Most of the restaurants that serve it make the coleslaw creamy, with mayonnaise instead of with vinegar, that's the way I prefer it, coleslaw with vinegar, in my opinion, is too much like drinking Italian dressing.

Eating catfish brings me back to the times as a child and teen where I would go with family up to some of the river towns on the far northern edge of the St. Louis area on the weekends, up Route 100 (aka the Great River Road), going to great restaurants specializing in catfish like the Finn Inn in Grafton.

The Finn Inn is a rather interesting place, as you can see from the picture on the left, you can eat while surrounded by aquariums that are built into the walls, filled with various aquatic creatures that are common to the Mississippi River, throughout it's entire length.

There's walleye, giant snapping turtles, and yes, even catfish that are among the various creatures in the tanks.

Sometimes, we would drive even farther north, about 2 hours distance for us each direction to isolated Calhoun County, Illinois, a county so isolated, that there are only just over 5,000 people. It sits between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, a large but sparsely populated area covered with woods and farmland.

It's a favorite stop for people heading up Route 100 on weekend drives (especially riding motorcycles), or sometimes even long distance biking, because of the great river views, and even more great catfish restaurants in the towns of Hardin and Kampsville. The drive itself is worth it, seeing the Mississippi River on one side, and river bluffs on the other.

Oh well, I'll quit talking about the various sights, and just show you some pictures:

Aerial view of Route 100/Great River road, this would part of the stretch between Alton and Grafton:

Brussels Ferry. Calhoun County, Illinois only has one bridge going across the river, a bridge going across on the Illinois River side at Hardin, it's so remote, and so little traffic comes in and out, that there's very few points of entry into the county, the bridge, and two ferrys. This ferry enters the county at the southern end, at the town of Brussels:

The only bridge into Calhoun County, Illinois, the Joe Page bridge at Hardin:

The stone exterior of the Finn Inn in Grafton:

Pictures are from Google Images. 


  1. Thanks for sharing your gastronomic memories and scenes from your part of the country. That plate of catfish looks good!

    While we're talking about regional seafood, I remember growing up with steamed crabs. When I was a teenager, my family would buy half a bushel of freshly steamed crabs from the local crab shack. We'd spread newspaper across the kitchen table, pile the crabs in the middle, and go about extracting the yummy crab meat (truly an art). The whole house smelled like Old Bay!

    The Cheasapeake Bay used to be reknown for its crabs, which are steamed and seasoned with Old Bay. DELICIOUS. Unfortunately, the crab population is so depleted that a bushel of crabs is prohibitively expensive now.

    1. Sounds good. I like crab when the meat is mixed with something (such as pasta). I'm not much of a fan of crab legs by themselves (most places make them too soggy).

      I do love a good plate of shrimp, though. :)


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