Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
One of the nicest things about going to new restaurants are those rare times when you get a surprise — the burger restaurant that also happens to make a great New Orleans muffaletta; the pizza place with the bomb-daddy minestrone; the barbecue joint with the killer red velvet cake. It's like putting on your jacket for the first time in the fall and finding a $10 bill in the pocket —something beautiful and unexpected and perfect.
We bring this up because we're here to preach today, brothers and sisters, about beans. Brown beans. Specifically: the brown beans at Fish-n-Pig restaurant in Mayflower. While its catfish fillets and sides are some of the best around, it's the beans that brought us back.
Situated six miles east of the Mayflower exit off I-40, Fish-n-Pig is in pretty much any city dweller's version of the sticks. Its billboard-sized sign is parked in the edge of a desolate haymow just off Highway 89, and then you drive another half mile through the wastelands before you spot the place, which stands on the property of Bobwhite Hill Ranch.
It's homey on the inside. A fireplace that stays going during the winter months stands at one end of a communal dining room filled with straightback chairs and vinyl-cloth-topped tables. The walls are lined with fishin' themed knick-knacks, and the staff is friendly and helpful to a fault.
Between the two visits we made to Fish-n-Pig, the reviewer and companions managed to cut a pretty wide swath through their modest menu of catfish, barbecue, sandwiches and po-boys, and found it all to range from good to great. The surprise was the appetizer that comes gratis with every fish plate: a small bowl of brown beans, paired with a tray of hush-puppies, pickled okra, sweet onion and green tomato relish. John Steinbeck said that the humble bean might be the world's most perfect food — that a man can actually gain weight eating nothing but (not that you'd want to try to live with him if he did). We might actually try living on these. Spicy, heavy on the black pepper, swimming in a thick roux of juices with none of the sugar some cooks try to toss into their legumes to liven them up, the brown beans at Fish-n-Pig are the best we've ever had in a restaurant, bar none. (One complaint, however: Where's the cornbread? They bring out bowls of hush puppies with them, but a hush puppy is not cornbread, friends.)
Sad to say, but Fish-n-Pig's pork sandwich was a letdown. Dry as a bone, minced nearly into powder, and paired with an odd, almost cinnamony sauce, it might be some of the worst barbecue we've ever had in a restaurant with a pig on the sign. A bite of another companion's ribs found them to be light years better — juicy and meaty, even without sauce — but the pulled pork needs a serious overhaul before it will be up to snuff.
Much better, too, were the catfish fillets (4 pieces, $10.99; 6 pieces, $12.99). One of the things that absolutely makes me scream is going into a catfish place, ordering the fillets, and ending up getting crunchy, paper thin slivers of fish, more breading than flesh. Luckily, there was no such nonsense at Fish-n-Pig. Perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of spice, the fillets were nice and thick — crispy cornmeal breading, filled with flaky white meat. The portions were more than generous as well, so much so that you could probably get away with feeding two on the eight-piece “Large Catch” ($14.99).
Though it is a bit of a haul up to Fish-n-Pig, it's worth it, especially given the lovely drive, which takes you literally down to the water's edge of the underappreciated Lake Conway. If you're heading in that direction and don't mind burning a little gas to get there, be sure to stop in.
Fish-n-Pig Catfish and Barbecue
64 Matt Abbott Drive
If you're not in the mood for fish, try the bottomless bowl of beans for only $4.99. Your spouse will probably make you sleep on the couch that night, but you'll leave happy.
4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Closed Sunday through Wednesday.
No alcohol, credit cards accepted.