Sunday, June 12, 2011

A catfish note

Posted By on Sun, Jun 12, 2011 at 7:51 AM

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Good fortune took me on a dinner roadtrip last night, to Murry's Restaurant on Highway 70 near Hazen. This is a continuation of the same family operation that has popped up here and there after a long run years ago in a warren of trailers in DeValls Bluff, but has been set near Hazen for some time.

The crowd wasn't as big as the throng a few miles west at Nick's in Carlisle, but I don't know why. Boss Stanley Young has been frying catfish for 41 years, following in a half century of Olden Murry's footsteps. The results are perfectly crisp filets, just salty and peppery enough. I know better than to declare this or that the be-all, end-all of catfish restaurants. But you won't be disappointed. My host — who also persuaded Young to fry some crappie he'd hooked on a morning fishing expedition — does insist that Murry's makes the best chicken-fried steak in Arkansas and touts its T-bone steaks, too. The restaurant occupies a former steakhouse, several levels in ambience above the old, old days some may recall in DeValls Bluff. PS: I do believe I might have spotted a group with an ice chest for supplementary beverages.

For a nice blast from the past, Google helpfully catalogues a passage from John Egerton's book on Southern eating, which included a stop in Olden Murry's old restaurant and a reference to a Mike Trimble article about the place.

"I go by looking at the fish and listening to the grease to tell when it's done," Murry said.

Stanley Young has a good ear, too. He also manages to batter and fry thick onion rings without producing the limp, soggy mess you find many places. These come crisp and stay crisp, with fat hunks of sweet, moist onion inside the crackly coat.

PS — The full story of Mike Trimble's long-ago visit to Murry's is here, at the bottom of an interview with Trimble about his time at the Arkansas Gazette. Lots of good stuff besides catfish.

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