With a name that sounds like a 1973 Frank Zappa jam-session bootleg, Bob’s Fish & Seafood is just as inaccessible to the mainstream public, many of whom probably cruise by the bedraggled edifice a few times a month, totally unaware that, despite a brutally desolate location and desperately faded signage, deep inside Bob and his crew are cooking up some of the best dang fried catfish in the Metro.
Located at 3340 N. Kelley on a mostly barren row of surprisingly sparse blocks, Bob’s Fish & Seafood has been a decently-kept secret for many years now, plaintively offering plenty of fresh fish on ice such as ocean perch, whiting and tilapia, as well as more outré eats such as frog legs and alligator, for mostly competitive prices, with none of the pretension you’d find at the more upper-crust of local fishmongeries.
But, just from sitting there patiently in Bon’s storefront during lunchtime, watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round, it was obvious around lunchtime the entire surrounding neighborhood will seemingly walk blocks, stand in line and wait a fair amount of time to fill up the lonely show and take Bob up on his daily deals on that grand Okie classic catfish, decidedly of the tried and true fried-to-a-hue variety, loaded with enough golden sides to even make Long John Silver jealous of the insurmountable cache of pirate booty coming his way.
Offering a fair assortment of different fish and shrimp deals, the lunch special, served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is probably the best idea of what Bob’s is all about, loading that Styrofoam to-go box down with a good helping of prime-time catfish fillets, sensually coated and liberally bathed in their special seasoned cornmeal and paired off with a wide selection of equally-fried sides, in this case potato wedges, hush puppies and, as an added bonus, okra, okra and more okra ($9.99).
Deep inside the spiritual muck and mire of the Lenten season, Bob’s has been a very particular type of culinary Godsend, one that is immediately worthy of praise and thanks upon the first bite of the immensely crispy breading that mingles deservedly well with the firm yet flaky meat beneath it, the homespun corn taste swimming alongside a freshwater flavor that is nowhere near as overwhelmingly earthy as this sort so typically is.
Bob’s doesn’t skimp on his sides either, with the handmade hush-puppies being the true catch of the day here. I would love to wake up to a bowl full of these plump cornbread babies every morning, a faint sweetness justifying the simmered secret spices and seasonings, tartar sauce not even a requisite. Same goes for the freshly cut and breaded okra and jojo potatoes, with the sight edge being given to the okra for the sheer tenacious crunch of every bite, each sliver a model of generational perfection.
But, like the Good Book says, man cannot live on fish alone and as I was finishing up my noon intake, Bob was able to suede me into trying their absolutely angelic homemade peach cobbler ($2.49) which seemed a bit decadent for such a religious meal on such a holy day of denial in retrospect but I’ll just have to take another bite and ask for forgiveness later. It’s worth the extra vespers at dinner.
So the next time you’re meandering down that end of Kelley and get an inappropriate hankering for some premium fried freshwater treasures, just look for the scary and/or creepy building with a burnt-out old sign that’ll make you want to grab a bucket of paint and sweetly touch it up on the way out as a big so long and thanks for all the fish. Cómpralo ya!
I gotta get me some of that gator meat to grill this summer. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.