Best Bet: Fried catfish

Fried catfish at James & Jack's Catfish Shack. Aug. 14 2012 (Michael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal)

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

Fried catfish at James & Jack's Catfish Shack. Aug. 14 2012 (Michael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal)

When someone uses "Mmmmm!" in an e-mail to describe something they liked at a restaurant, I'm going to check it out.

That's how Micah McCollough described the fried catfish at James & Jack's Catfish Shack. He loves it.

I've probably passed the restaurant, which is in a strip mall on Mendenhall, a thousand times and never noticed it. It's been there 16 years, said Christian Moore, who was preparing catfish when I arrived.

His dad is James Moore, the "James" in the title. James opened the restaurant with his brother, Jack Fondren, after moving back to Memphis from Los Angeles, where he was a transit operation supervisor for the Los Angeles Metro Transit Authority.

His father and uncle really weren't cooks when they opened the restaurant, Christian said. So, why catfish? "They're both from Memphis," he said. "I guess everybody in Memphis can make fish."

James said he'd done some catfish cooking before he opened the restaurant. "I helped cook at church when I lived in L.A.," he said.

He got the idea to sell catfish after he tried to place a phone order from a restaurant and was told they "weren't taking any orders on the phone."

James went to the restaurant, got his order, went back home and thought, "I can do this."

They use farm-raised catfish from Mississippi, James said.

And, Christian said, they use a cornmeal batter with "some spices," all secret, of course.

Their fish "has that Southern taste," James said. "It grows on you. You can't get enough of it."

I ate all five of my fillets, which came with French fries, hush puppies and coleslaw for $11.95. "A lot of customers can't eat a lot of salt, so there's not a lot of spice in our fish batter," James said.

I like my catfish saltier, so I just added salt and pepper. And then I always use Louisiana hot sauce.

James isn't a trained chef, but Christian is; he's a graduate of L'Ecole Culinaire culinary school. James & Jack's Catfish Shack offers other items, including Christian's specialty: grilled tilapia.

Some items on the menu are referred to as "Captain James Platters" and "Captain James sides."

"I've never been any kind of captain," James said. "My salesperson came in and said, 'What's up, Capt. James?'"

The name stuck.

James & Jack's Catfish Shack is at 3706 S. Mendenhall. Call 901-366-6967.

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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