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"I'm Serinna, and I'll be helpin' ya," announced our slightly disheveled young woman in her fishing vest. She set two bowls in the center of the table, one containing cold, creamy cole slaw and the other a mess o' generously peppered white beans, hot and soft and loaded with fat chunks of pink ham. Following that came a plastic basket of hush puppies, a quartet of little cornmeal balls that had spent too many minutes in the deep fryer another motif of this restaurant so that their exteriors were nearly rock-hard. I was tempted to ask for a nutcracker.
A minute later, Serinna did bring a nutcracker, but it was for the crab legs that came with my Jumpin' Catfish Platter, a high-cholesterol treasure-trove that included two deep-fried shrimp, two cornmeal-dusted curls of fried catfish, and two "stuffed" crabs that had been plunged into hot grease until they were dark-brown and barely recognizable. "The oil is dirty," Bob groused, wrinkling his nose at the overcooked crablets.
He gave only faint praise to his plate of Southern fried chicken because the bird's crunchy battered surface was also a shade over-fried. But we agreed that it was a plump, moist breast underneath that greasy exterior. The fried potato wedges were also pretty dark but pretty tasty, too.
I'm not putting down deep-fried food. I'll eat just about anything fried in grease if it's prepared correctly. That's why I promised Jason and Jennifer that I was taking them to fried-food paradise when we went to The Jumpin' Catfish for lunch a couple of days later. They're both young and healthy, so they were excited by the prospect of such a decadent midday meal. Once again, Serinna carried in bowls of beans and slaw. Jason thought it was weird to be served side dishes as an appetizer, but weirdness rules at The Jumpin' Catfish. I mean, where else can you get a single fried frog leg as a starter? Jason and I split it, agreeing that it had a lovely, crackly crust and didn't really taste like chicken it tasted like frog. "But soft, meaty and juicy frog," Jason said.
Our amphibian appetizer trumped the "combo basket," a french-fried jumble of okra bits, chewy cheese balls, sweet corn nuggets and a battered sliver of leathery "duck tenders." Some things, like duck meat, are not meant to be deep-fried.
Jason chickened out of ordering the fried-quail-and-grilled-catfish combo and asked Serinna for a platter of fried catfish instead. He pronounced the farm-raised fish to be a bit dry and chewy but not too bad dipped in tartar sauce. "Everything tastes better with tartar sauce," he said. Given that assess-ment, Jennifer probably could have used some tartar sauce for her lemon-pepper catfish.
Meanwhile, I asked Serinna to describe the sauce on Dave's Creamy Parmesan Catfish. "It's really parmesany," she told me, "although I know that's not a word." No, it's not, and it didn't do justice to what turned out to be a surprisingly thick and tasty cream sauce loaded with tiny shrimp, blanketing an otherwise bland grilled fillet. It was quite good but too rich, even for a cream-sauce devotee like me.
Jason nibbled on his fish and potato wedges but ultimately decided that a totally deep-fried lunch was just too heavy for a summer afternoon. But we did finish up the meal with two decidedly ungreasy desserts. Jennifer and I shared a hot cherry cobbler, baked under a layer of sugary pastry with a baseball-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream. Jason ordered the Hershey-chocolate version, which looked like a big, soft brownie. Both desserts were almost unbearably sweet, but sugar is such a neat counterpoint to fried food that we didn't mind too much.