Grampa’s could be called Son-in-Law’s.
The Otter Creek location of the catfish restaurant, owned by Nate and Denise Townsend before it lost its lease and shut down last year, is now open again for lunch and dinner (although not the seven days a week that it says on the road sign), revived by the Townsends’ son-in-law, Tyson Allen.
(The Sherwood location that was closed, then reopened, then closed amid last year’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, is still closed with no immediate plans to reopen. There is still a Grampa’s Catfish, a franchise operation, on Airport Road in Hot Springs.)
Though I had dined at the Sherwood outlet (and before that the North Little Rock location it replaced), two recent dinners marked my first ever visits to the place on Stagecoach Road.So I can’t say whether much was done to the humble, homey interior - distressed concrete flooring, wooden chairs and tables, bright lights from overhead ceiling fan kits and walls featuring wood paneling, pale green paint, and ornamentation like fishing nets, anchors and tacked-on old advertisements for GTO, Red Ryder and the like.
There were several other tables of diners both visits (on a weeknight and a Friday night), with part of the roomy restaurant closed off. Servers were sweet and helpful.
Starters aren’t a must at Grampa’s, where a basket of sweet hush puppies (and on one visit, we also got two dishes of a tangy green tomato relish) precedes meals. But they’re a bonus.
With us at an impasse over crawfish tails ($7.45) and fried dill pickles ($5.25), our server volunteered to bring us a half order of each. Both battered appetizers were quite generous; we wouldn’t have needed full portions of the zippy crawfish tails served with cocktail sauce or the salty pickle slices served with ranch dressing. Our second visit, we selected another fried appetizer (the only kind Grampa’s serves: blooming onion, onion ring, cheese stick, sweet potato fries, etc.): Zucchini sticks ($6.25), only they weren’t the eight sticks the menu described, but rather a plentiful basket of thick coins, served with ranch.
There are plenty of entree choices under categories like sandwiches, combos, fish meals, chicken meals, “the grill and things,” seafood and extras. They’ve got crab legs ($14.95 per pound) after 4 p.m. And there’s a Kids’ Menu ($3.345-$4.95).
But we’ll make it simple for you. Get the catfish. Fried catfish. Whether you get it in the form of “The Private,” with one fillet and two sides ($7.05), all the way up the ranks to “The General,” with eight fillets and two sides ($26.95), just get it.
Sure, there’s chicken Alfredo, a tilapia dinner and even steak. But get the fried catfish.
Grampa’s offerings never got better than two catfish fillets that were part of the otherwise superfluous Seafood Plate ($21.95), alongside a 3-ounce stuffed crab, three fried shrimp, fried clam strips and two sides (we selected the fine waffle fries and fried okra). There was nothing wrong with the crab (mostly filler), satisfactory shrimp and chewy clams, but they detracted from the star attractions - the blond, fresh and smartly seasoned catfish.
The difference in the taste - and the price - is Grampa’s insistence on using “U.S. FARM RAISED CATFISH ONLY,” pledged in capital letters, just like that, on the menu.
The Cajun crawfish po’ boy ($6.95; $10.95 with two sides) was big, a bounty of grilled tails with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise (or not, as we requested) on a seeded bun. A second plate contained the requested sides of waffle fries and tasty coleslaw, as well as dill pickle spear and thick onion slice.
We craved more fried catfish (remember, we said to order that, right? Prices start at $2.45 for an “extra” fillet), but we fulfilled our review duties to sample around, selecting a two-piece chicken meal ($9.85) and the blackened Cajun catfish ($14.25).
We expected we’d be getting full-fledged pieces of fried chicken (grilled and blackened were other options) - after all, the menu said “2 pieces chicken breast.” But instead we received two fried chicken tenders that had little flavor and little warmth, as if they had been sitting around for a bit. The greens needed some pepper sauce pizazz, but the creamy macaroni and cheese was just right.
The slightly rubbery Cajun catfish would have been unremarkable, had this not happened: As my companion was about to have me try it and confirm his critique, our server came out - without being asked - with a whole new order, saying the kitchen didn’t feel good about the first fillet. Um, OK? We were thrust into The Caper of the Questionable Cajun Catfish, wondering what indeed had happened to first fillet. (Did they cook it too much/not enough? Did someone cough on it? Did it fall on the floor? And why didn’t they make the call to recall it before it was served?) Still, we appreciated their willingness to make it right. While the second did have a better texture, it didn’t have as much flavor (hmm, and why is that?) as the first.
Again, it all comes down to this: Get the fried catfish.
No, wait, get the fried catfish. And pie.
Any lingering concerns were calmed by rich, frothy and sweet slices homemade of chocolate and coconut meringue pie ($1.95).
Grampa’s Address: 9219 Stagecoach Road, Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday Cuisine: Catfish, chicken, shrimp, sandwiches Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Reservations: Parties of six or more Alcoholic beverages: Not yet (beer permit pending) Wheelchair accessible: Yes (501) 407-0000
Weekend, Pages 33 on 09/05/2013
Print Headline: Grampa’s. Catfish. ’Nuff said