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The Lazy Fisherman Catfish
Go south on Memorial, past the malls and the huge new Super Target, and somewhere south of 150th St the busy 6-lane highway becomes a sleepy country road. You’re not in Tulsa anymore. Around 168th St there’s a fork in the road, and what looks like a little low-slung wood farmhouse appears. That’s the Lazy Fisherman.
I was far from home, and I’d gone there to eat catfish. People round here take catfish for granted. But try to get it in New York. Back in the ’20s all those Southern immigrants discovered to their despair that there was none to be had. I’ve read somewhere that all the top soul food chefs called a meeting to decide on a substitute. They picked whiting. And indeed that’s the fish they use in the Northeast if you’re lucky enough to find fried fish (which you won’t, except for the upscale French-style beer-battered version). Believe me, whiting ain’t no catfish.
In search of Tulsa’s many unsung treasures, I’ve visited three places specializing in catfish in the past few weeks. (The others are Sweet Lisa’s Cafe and Abear’s, and I’ve written reviews of them that we’ll post later.) Lazy Fisherman was the last. It opened up around 1995 but it seems like it’s been there since Washington Irving camped about a mile or so up the road. Okay, slight exaggeration, but that varnished pine exterior really does look like something out of an old Western movie set. (It used to be a house years ago.) Inside is a big pleasant one-room affair with pine picnic-style long tables. Friendly people too. After all, it is a family place and if you look at the photo of the Churchill family on their website, chances are you’ll recognize your cook and waitress.
Basically the thing here is catfish. The shrimp are very very good, they have frog’s legs too, and someone must order the burgers and chicken, but I can’t imagine who. You’re there for the catfish. Fresh, perfect, battered with cornmeal and fried by an expert hand, these ethereal fillets just might be Tulsa’s finest. I ordered the fisherman’s combo ($12), and it had three of them. Along with three shrimp (flattened, fried with coconut batter, thinking it over if someone did make the trip just to have the shrimp, I’d understand) and choice of three sides. I had fried okra (crisp outside, slimy inside, just how it should be), mashed skin-on potatoes (good) and green beans (really soft but good because of the salt and garlic). And then just when I was about to burst (how embarrassing that would have been!) it was dessert time. So we ordered one piece of coconut pie and split it. Incredibly good. I think they used eggs in with the filling. I wish I’d stolen my friends’ portions.
I think I traveled 30 miles, 15 each way. But we all agreed it was worth the trip.
The Lazy Fisherman
16830 S. Memorial Dr, Bixby
open Wed through Sat till around 8 PM, Sun for lunch only, closed Mon and Tue
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford (Meaning cow crossing a stream in Chinese) at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately.
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.