We were at the Cordova catfish restaurant named Scales Café when I overheard a diner comment that catfish don't have scales. After a great deal of discussion at my table, including whether catfish is kosher, I remembered that my iPhone could solve the mystery.
It did, and who knew? No scales on a catfish. And in case you're curious, that means it's not kosher.
But it is mighty tasty at Scales, where the fish is served fried, grilled or blackened, on a plate or a hoagie, in a salad or in a pita. Stick with the platters and baskets, which are the better value -- the sandwiches are tasty but on the skimpy side.
There's nothing skimpy about the fried platters, though.
Fillets of pond-raised catfish come with fries, hush puppies and slaw. The large order contains three pieces of fish for $12.95; the small, two pieces for $10.95.
The fillets are, first off, huge. One will satisfy most appetites, and only the heartiest eaters would make it through three. They're also clean, fresh and delicate inside a cornmeal batter that is fried to a near-perfect crisp.
The first time we went, the batter was on the salty side. It wasn't so salty that you'd notice on the first bite or two, but it became evident about halfway through the first fillet. I'm not sure this would be a problem for many people, who tend toward a heavy hand with the salt. And on the second visit, the seasoning was just right.
The grilled catfish with crawfish sauce was a decadent New Orleans-style dish. I ordered it with the sauce on the side, but it came over the fish. The server noticed when she sat the plate down and offered to take it back to the kitchen, but it looked so good that I demurred.
It was excellent -- buttery, spicy and full of crawfish -- and made me wish for a scoop of rice to eat with it. The grilled or blackened fish comes with the same sides as the fried; I'd like to see other sides offered, as the character of fried fish is really quite different.
One extra side item you'll want to try is the green tomato relish. Coarsely chopped green tomatoes are pickled in a sweet and slightly spicy brine, and they brighten any dish. The turnip greens were a bit overcooked, but they were good -- not sweet, which I cannot bear, but instead with a slight bitter bite.
The Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer brings a small plate of small fried shrimp covered in a creamy chipotle sauce, the house version of a comeback sauce. It was delicious -- the sauce was spicy and the shrimp crunchy -- but it was a meager portion for $8.
The pricing at the restaurant seems inconsistent. While the large fried catfish platter brings three big fillets for $12.95, the grilled platter contains only one fillet for $13.95. Yet the crawfish sauce adds only $1 to that, and I would expect a sauce of that quality to cost more. It's a new restaurant, open about four months, and these are issues that tend to work out over time.
You're unlikely to drive by Scales and think, "Hmm, this looks like a place I'd like to try," because the chances of you driving by it are remote. It's in a nearly hidden center tucked sort of behind O'Charley's, east of Germantown Parkway and south of Macon Road.
It's not hard to find, though -- just turn off Germantown Parkway on Macon Station, and go to the second set of buildings facing south.
The restaurant offers a selection of smoothies, perhaps to attract the crowd from the fitness center just a few doors down.
That also explains the name. I asked my server about it, explaining that catfish don't have scales. She said it was about striking a balance between the healthy food -- the smoothies -- and the "not so healthy," or the fried food.
On some Saturday nights -- be sure to call ahead -- Scales offers live jazz from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. It's an attractive and spacious place and seems suited for Saturday night jazz. There are items on that menu that aren't available at any other time, including hush puppies stuffed with peppers and smoked sausage. I wasn't able to try those, but I plan to.
Address: 8130 Macon Station Road, Suite 106
Telephone: (901) 751-8800
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (open until 1 a.m. some Saturdays for live jazz; call ahead); and Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Fried catfish platter; grilled catfish platter with crawfish sauce; green tomato relish; Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer
— Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223