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Fish Type: Catfish     Price: $10.50

Overall, I would recommend this Fish Fry.

Fish Score: Excellent
Potato Score: Good
Tartar Score: Good
Bread Score: Fair
Miscellaneous Score: Good

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Comment: “Where is that?” is easily the most common response you get when you throw out the name Melly Mell’s (often times with an “in the hell” sprinkled in there). While not well known, the legend of Melly is growing as her southern-fried specialties are quickly becoming the subject of local lore. From the deep-fried catfish and chicken wings to the homemade mac-n-cheese, Melly seems to do just about everything well and Madison’s food lovers are starting to take notice.

Provided you can find Melly in her basement confines you are in for a real treat. On Friday there are a few different fish on special, starting with the southern staple of catfish, which comes as a fillet or in nugget form. While the Catnuggets sounded interesting I wasn’t brave enough to try them this go-round, nor did I opt for the ocean perch (which I tried last time) or the cod (which is apparently not popular at Melly’s).

We had a large party for a Friday and lunch it took a little longer than average for our food to trickle out of the kitchen. The first round arrived about 15 minutes after we ordered with subsequent plates coming every couple of minutes after that. Since I was first on the list, my deep fried catfish came right away, and while I wanted to wait for everyone to get their food it would have been crazy to do so.

The catfish was steaming hot, and I almost burned my finger as I tore into it to release some of the heat and get a manageable bite. As you’d expect, the meat was a little mushy (that’s what you get from those bottom-feeders), but it was still tender and tasty. It had a lovely white color and a smoother flavor than the over-powering stank you get from the darker colored cuts of catfish. The batter was fried to a beautiful golden color and was subtly seasoned.

Pairing elegantly with the fish was Melly’s homemade tartar sauce. The thick mix was a force to be reckoned with, and boasted a boat-load of relish and a creamy mayo base. It really took the fish up a notch, but the small cup had me scraping bottom on the last couple bites.

Melly lets you choose any two sides you want with your Fish Fry and I went for the standard fries and the not-so-standard mac-n-cheese. The thick-cut crinkle fries were plentiful and fried just right. They had a crisp snap to ‘em and could well have been cut in-house, but then again, could well have not been. Regardless, it’s not like it even matters because they were delicious as was the homemade mac-n-cheese which was a great substitution for the basic coleslaw.

Rounding out the meal was a piece of white bread that sat under the fish, and sorta served as a grease trap. Luckily, Melly’s fish isn’t very greasy so there wasn’t much that needed trapping. This left the bread dry for the most part, but a little limp from its time spent steaming under the catfish.

Melly’s is in an odd spot, and is solely a destination since there is no way you’re going to just stumble upon their subterranean home. For those willing to take the underground plunge you’ll be rewarded with some really great food for a really good price. For those unwilling wimps, the myth of Melly’s will just continue to grow larger and larger. Overall, I highly recommend this Fish Fry, and would say it is some of the best catfish you’ll find in these parts.
313 W Beltline Hwy
Madison, WI 53713

(608) 270-9512