TLO Restaurant Review: Punkin’s Bar-B-Que & Catfish

When on the road in Oklahoma, small town eateries are almost always a sure-fire bet for some good old-fashioned cooking—hopefully from an elderly woman, natch—that you usually can’t find in the hard and cold city anymore. But, on those rare occasions, sometimes that side-of-the-road eatery is just another travel-weary ruse, delivering a much-promised handcrafted meal that’s about as homemade as warming up a TV dinner in the microwave.

For example, take the Pauls Valley favorite—I’m guessing—Punkin’s at 1911 W. Grant Ave.; I’m sure you’ve seen their enticing Elvis-laden signage pelvically shimmying down the highway, advertising enough good eats to get anyone and everyone in your party all shook up at the idea of stopping for some fried fish and barbeque, if they can just hold on for a few minutes and make it a couple of miles to Exit 72.

When I finally got to the place, the plates of abundant fried catfish were swimming out at a steady pace and no one was throwing them back—that seemed like a good-enough sign. As my waitress hurriedly brought some town’s unfamiliar water to me, I went ahead and ordered the 2 Piece Catfish Fillet ($12.00) dinner, which seemed like a reasonably tasty backwoods Oklahoma meal, especially after such a long drive.

For an appetizer though, the Fried Green Tomatoes ($6.00) seemed to be just the thing to munch on as I waited for my delicate fish. As soon as I bit into the first greasy tomato slice however, I noticed it had an obviously refrigerated flavor that just didn’t sit right with this wannabe denizen of Atlantis. I asked the waitress if they were homemade and she admitted, with a slight sigh, that they came pre-made, coating and all, in a plastic bag.

Like a rotten landlubber, I pushed them away, the novelty of small-town fried green tomatoes best left to my old VHS copy and those utterly pervasive memories that are seemingly gone for good.

That’s okay, I mutually reassured myself, because my 2 Piece Catfish Fillet dinner flopped right onto my table, ready for tarter-sauced digestion; those two sturdily dusted-with-cornmeal pieces of catfish with a pair of still-glistening hush-puppies waiting on top, as well as the requisite sides of steaming fried okra and piled-on cole slaw, were such a beautiful thing that night—I was definitely not going to throw this fried delicacy back in the lake.

Then I took a bite of my sides.

After asking my waitress again about my food, turns out the okra isn’t made fresh at all and, even worse, the cole slaw had an acidic off-taste that gave me a rousing feeling of sea-sickness. Still, my catfish was quite the treat, a devoted couple of flavor-blasted planks that teased their fresh-water divinity; slightly flaky and judiciously textured, it really made up for most of the ill-advised sides and other diversions.

The real star of the show, for me at least, were the devout hushpuppies; a definite creation of the Punkin’s family and no one else, I truly considered sending my meal back and just requesting a small trashbag of those tasty cornmeal balls to snack on for the rest of the drive home. But, of course, I didn’t. That would’ve been crazy…right?

Thinking back on it now, I don’t think neither Elvis nor I probably would eat here again. While the catfish and hush puppies were swimmingly fine for a slim meal, just about everything else was mostly leftover chum that I’d be happy to feed to my guppies, if I owned any. But, to be unequivocally fair, it did seem like the most popular place in Pauls Valley, so maybe they know something I don’t. Cómpralo eh.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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17 Responses

  1. Louis, you should have tried the BBQ there. The smoked jalapeno, cheddar sausage is divine. Owners are great people too.

  2. Checked out a “new” BBQ joint in Edmond last week. Same story about the sides…baked beans,and potato salad…tasted like that Sam’s bulk crap. And the fries…kissed the deep fryer for maybe 30 seconds…served warm, soggy, swimming in grease and tasteless.
    The ribs lacked flavor and were dry as a popcorn fart…chopped brisket sandwich was edible.
    Oh, only one type of bbq sauce was available…no hot or mild…and it also had that “institutional” flavor.
    But the parking lot was jammed…go figure.

    1. I’ve yet to find a good BBQ place in Edmond, tbh.

      1. Texlahoma on Waterloo Rd. is on point! Best brisket I’ve had in a long while.

        1. Thanks for the tip, I’ll give them a try when I get a chance.

          1. You will not regret it. They’re closed the first Monday of every month. The owners are an awesome couple and the love of what they are doing shows in the end product. Seriously, one of my top 5 Oklahoma restaurants.

            1. Really nice folks but too bad, so sad…mediocre food. Beans were homemade but tasted awful…a mixture of spices that overpowered the beans completely.
              The brisket: While they started with a decent piece of meat…tender and lean…it was morphed into another tasteless slab of blah that lacked even a hint of smoke.
              Flavorless and dry, but if you drown it with bbq sauce you might not notice.
              Funny thing about meat regardless of how it is prepared…it must stand on its own flavors or it isn’t worth a damn…imo.

        2. +100

      2. Try Klemm’s, 20th & Bdway, Sides are fresh and made in house. It’s different than the usual, but if you’re a little adventurous, you might find something you like.

        1. I’m a pretty adventurous eater, and if they have fresh sides that’s usually a good sign.

        2. I assumed that Klemms was German food, which I know nothing about.I Iive near there and will give it a try. I too haven’t found much good BBQ in Edmond.

        3. Not a fan.

  3. Word on the street is, Punkin and Bubba are cousins:[email protected]/35354749961/

  4. oh shizz

  5. Being born and raised in Pauls Valley, I can tell you a lot of the locals stopped going to Punkin’s several years ago. You can find much better BBQ at Trails End in Wynnewood and, especially, Smokin’ Joe’s just a short drive away in Davis.

    It’s been a while, so my memory has faded, so I may be totally off on this. Punkin started off at a little cafe east of Pauls Valley called Red’s. I don’t recall if he was the cook or if he had bought the place, but in the late 70s/early 80s he opened Punkin’s near I-35 where Riviera Maya – an altogether forgettable Mexican restaurant is now located. The food was great, and the place was always packed. At some point, Punkin lost the restaurant. I can’t recall if he sold it, lost it due to taxes or went to jail, but it went downhill quick. At some point, he made a return, and things were good again. I don’t recall much else, but I think he passed away several years ago. They’ve moved the restaurant several time. The current location used to be Ben’s Pizza Den. They’re still banking on the name, but it isn’t close to what it once was.

    1. Punkin’s was located in 1976 at nearby Sratford, Ok later moved to Pauls Valley. RIP Punkin Estes.

  6. I actually learned today that Punkin is alive and well, apparently. He tried to open a restaurant in Ada, but was sued by the current owner of Punkin’s – John – as Punkin had signed a non-compete agreement.

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