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Fish Type: Catfish     Price: $12.00

Overall, I would recommend this Fish Fry.

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

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Comment: When you grow up near the Mississippi River catfish is a way of life. Many restaurants in the area have it on the menu all the time while others have special catfish feeds throughout the year. In Madison catfish is a different story. The bottom feeder can be hard to come by as it’s thought of more as a Cajun or southern option rather than a true Fish Fry fish. Thus, the catfish you find in Madison usually isn’t anything special. Usually…

That BBQ Joint on Willy quickly made a name for itself on the Madison culinary scene with some radical ribs and bodacious brisket. We figured we’d give it a try some day, but were more than a little surprised to see their sandwich board advertising a “FISH FRY” a few weeks back. We were less surprised when we found out catfish was the fish they were frying but knew we needed to get over there ASAP to see what it was all about.

For $12 three big pieces of catfish hold court on the plate. Catfish has a tendency to be mushy and amorphous when deep fried, but the BBQ Joint’s had a nice flakiness and didn’t get gelatinous or mushy at all. The texture held up throughout and paired perfectly with its crumbly breading. The crispy coating featured plenty of seasoning, and although you couldn’t tell exactly what the spices were, they were exactly what you want. It well could have been the best cat we’ve ever had…it’s certainly up there.

That BBQ Joint has French fries on their everyday menu but curiously none come with the Fish Fry. A couple hush puppies filled the void to some extent, but really can’t compare. The seasoned balls of cornmeal were breaded and fried to a golden brown and quite tasty. They had a bit of heat on the backend that made them anything but bland and had us reaching for our water glass time and again.

The tartar appeared to be straight mayo but there was definitely a little something buried in there. Like a ball of yarn the smooth flavor of the sauce played nicely with the feisty cat. No bread came with the Fish Fry, but two cups of slaw did. That’s right, TWO cups.

Apparently they really want you to have both the creamy and vinegar varieties and while we appreciate the effort we’d rather have a choice of slaw and side if fries instead. Anyway, the creamy slaw was good, and while it had dried cranberries in it there wasn’t enough to overpower the mix. The vinegar version was much more diverse and had some jalapeño or something which lent it some heat. Both were equally enticing but in a different ways. As you might expect That BBQ Joint knows slaw.

You see plenty of freshwater fish on Friday menus, but when you’re in Madison catfish usually isn’t one of them. It’s a polarizing offering as some people just can’t stomach the thought of eating a bottom feeder, but the open-minded among us know that when done right catfish can have an alluring essence that is truly memorable. That BBQ Joint does it right. Overall, we recommend this Fish Fry and with a few tweaks think it could be something special.
1511 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53703

(608) 709-1300