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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Field Trip: Fish Camp

Continuing the Tar Heel 25 theme, this week I wanted to experience a "fish camp." I was pretty sure it would be little different than good ol' Country Boys at Lake Talquin -- a staple of childhood weekends at my grandmother's lake house. But I do love an off-the-beaten-path outing, and the paper had an inviting description:

Down-home fried-fish restaurants called fish camps used to dot river towns throughout the South. Get a taste of the tradition at Twin Tops Fish Camp in Belmont. Skip the seafood and go with a plateful of salt-and-pepper catfish. The crunchy crust is dusky with black pepper and covers sweet, white flesh underneath. Save some change to blow in the incredible candy store.

My friend Ty is a Mississippi native who gets a little homesick for catfish country, so we rounded up some friends and made it a Friday night field trip.

I loved it as soon as we got there -- despite the bright fluorescent lighting, it oozes character, with fishing paraphernalia mounted on the baby blue walls and a colorful menu dotted with advertisements for local businesses. Tiny Tim's Tree & Stump offers diners a bevvy of arboreal options, under the clever slogan "Give Us A Hoot, We'll Remove Your Root." Our enormous booth came complete with a gumball machine.

The wait staff couldn't have been any friendlier. "How are the scallops?" Alexis asked as we pondered the menu.

"Honey, I've never eaten one in my life," our waitress confessed. When I asked which was better, the catfish fillets or the whole bone-in fish, she swore by the latter and brought us a generous plate of both to sample. I agree the bone-in option is indeed more flavorful, but I'm not sure it outweighs the additional effort.

The salad bar was a pleasant surprise. We found both iceburg and mixed greens, a fantastic mix of fresh vegetables (including finely chopped broccoli -- more salad bars need to adopt this approach) generous chunks of freshly fried bacon, blue cheese and even -- surprisingly -- craisins! It was an unexpected delight.

The portions were enormous. Ty and Randy both got a full order of catfish fillets, and they each needed a go box for leftovers. 

Alexis had the salmon -- pretty sure the waitress had never seen anyone order that before either -- and Rebecca got the tiniest fried shrimp I'd ever seen.
Overall, it was tasty and a fun way to spend a Friday night. I was a little sad to see that cheese grits were not on the menu, but the french fries and hushpuppies were both delicious. I honestly may have eaten more hushpuppies than catfish.

The cash register is located inside the candy store, with a number of treats I hadn't seen since the 80s. Unfortunately, based on the amount of time and effort it took to remove the label from my Blow-Pop, I think some of the inventory might have been there since the 80s.

Snaps to my fun friends for being willing to get out of the city for the evening and try something different.


neil said...

Sounds great. Now I'm craving catfish.

Mandy said...

Lynsley, this place sounds great! I must say, though, I think it's just plain wrong to not have cheese grits with fried fish or fried seafood.

Have you tried dipping your hushpuppies in tartar sauce? KC Williams taught me this several years ago(I thought it was an insane suggestion, but I tried it anyway), and it's slap-your-mama good.

Lyns said...

Mandy, they brought out a generous supply of tartar sauce with the hushpuppies. That might make up for the lack o' cheese grits! I am chagrined to say I did not indulge.

Your musings on the virtues of that flavor combination support my theory that all mayonnaise-based products are something one enjoys more as one ages... ;-)