If you're under the care of a cardiologist, I'm thinking Catfish Alley shouldn't be your first choice, since virtually everything in the restaurant is fried. Well, foodwise, anyway.
But if you can appreciate thin, almost delicate fillets of catfish, coated in a cornmeal mixture and plunged into hot, fresh oil until the coating turns gold and crackling, the moist, mild fish steaming gently within, this could be your kind of place.
It's true that not all of the food is fried at Catfish Alley -- the desserts, for example. And the baked potato, potato salad, greens and corn on the cob. But this is a place that's so dedicated to the art of the fryer that even the green beans and creamed corn get the treatment -- both emerging much improved, as it turns out.
How do they fry creamed corn? Beats me, although I'd imagine it involves freezing somewhere along the way. But the Corn Nuggets appetizer ($4.99) -- one of those guilty pleasures that seem to spring up at places like county fairs -- is a pile of irregular little lumps whose crisp exterior yields to a gentle ooze of slightly sweetened, lightly creamed corn kernels that were as addictive as crack cocaine, only slightly more healthy.
And the green beans, another appetizer ($4.99). I don't know who breads each and every one of these beans in what I'm sure is an arduous task but one that's well worth it -- to the customer, anyway -- because the coating is so light, the frying so brief, that the fresh beans retain their natural crispness.
Fried shrimp ($12.49 for a six-piece dinner with two sides) were more average only because there's a lot of good fried shrimp out there; these were sweet and moist, their coating slightly crunchy.
And of course we had to have the restaurant's signature dish, in a two-piece dinner with two sides ($8.99), and the large fillets were perfectly prepared.
Both dinners were accompanied by two hush puppies, a rarity in these parts and a deft rendition of these subtly seasoned balls of fried cornmeal.
We also had sides of baked beans and cole slaw. The beans were fine -- not too sweet, and with a nice, deep note of molasses -- but the slaw was just OK, a creamy version that tasted more like a commercial preparation than something somebody's grandmother would whip up.
French fries were french fries, but fried okra -- another rarity in the desert -- were delightful. If you don't have much of a familiarity with things below the Mason-Dixon line, you've likely heard a lot of Yankee-inspired stories about how nasty okra can be, and they're all true, at least if the pods are boiled. Stew 'em with tomatoes, though, pickle them or -- as in this case -- slice them up, coat them with corn meal and fry them into crunchy little nuggets, and they're just grand.
Before I overdose on enthusiasm, here are a couple of caveats about Catfish Alley: This is a counter-service spot, which means you order and pay at the counter, they give you a slip with a number and somebody brings it to the table. But the woman who took our order and brought our pitcher of beer and most of our food was among the most pleasant individuals we've encountered in a long time, in a restaurant or not.
The counter-service thing usually also means paper and plastic dishes and plastic flatware (and plastic cups for the beer), and it does in this case, so be prepared for that. And the atmosphere is squeaky-clean but a little on the spare side, with the big space feeling like it could use a few more tables here and there.
Somehow, we couldn't help but think that squeaky-clean thing extended to the oil, because its freshness and temperature and other attendant details can have a dramatic effect on fried food.
And at Catfish Alley, they sure know how to fry.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.