Catfishing in America
Gagnier's Creole Kitchen
Gagnier's chicken creole is a spicy, long-cooked stew imbued with the creole trinity of onions, garlic and sautéed bell peppers, and dominated by the high, sweet note of tomatoes cooked down almost to caramel. The jambalaya, just moistened with tomato, comes ladled over rice and shot through with chicken, smoked sausage and crawfish and shrimp. And for the love of God, don't neglect to try the excellent catfish po' boys. 1622 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 392-5410. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9$18. BYOB. Takeout. AE, MC, V.
The Gumbo Pot may not be among the very best creole-style restaurants in Los Angeles, but anywhere you can punctuate a day at the market with a fried-oyster po' â boy, a bowl of seafood gumbo and a cold Barq's is not to be despised. There are cold boiled crawfish in season -- now, more or less -- also shrimp, very fresh, mildly flavored with the peppers and aromatics with which they have been cooked and served with a decent rémoulade sauce that seems to be two-thirds fresh horseradish by weight. The catfish po' boy is a dainty thing, really, belonging less to the maximum-crunch than the lightly fried school, so you actually taste the clean muddiness of the fish before you taste the oil in which it has cooked. Like most of the sandwiches here, it's served on an untoasted French roll and garnished with enough tomato, lettuce and garlic mayonnaise to populate a small salad bowl. At Farmers Market, Third Street at Fairfax Avenue; (213) 933-0358. Open for lunch daily. Lunch for two, food only, $9$15. No alcohol, technically speaking (beer and wine are sold a few yards away in the market). Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
At Johnny Reb's -- at least some of the time -- are fried green tomatoes that might inspire somebody to write a book, firm, bright-green things dipped in cornmeal and grilled, topped with crumbled bacon, and as sweet, tart and savory as you could want. Hushpuppies, round balls of corn batter deep-fried into a golden crunchiness, have all the terrific, trashy fried-onion flavor that most places try to civilize out of them. Here, too, are lavishly buttered bowls of grits at breakfast, served with hot corn bread, eggs any way you like them and pungent, profoundly salty slabs of real country ham. The prime rib, smoked first in the pit, coated with Prudhommesque seasonings and charred, is great, and the curls of fried catfish, cornmeal-coated fillets that practically dissolve on your tongue, are the best in the county, all spice, juice and crunch. 4663 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 423-7327. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $13$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Also at 16639 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower; (562) 866-6455.
M&M is country in the best sense of the word, a monument to the Southern institution of meat-and-threes. You get to choose three side dishes with your meal: stewed collard greens, candy-sweet yams, rice and gravy, potato salad, green beans cooked with potatoes so long that they fall apart when you look at them, or creamy macaroni and cheese. This is the place for sweetened iced tea served in tumblers so immense you can barely get one hand around them, and fresh lemonade that tastes the way your grandmother's probably did. A pan-grilled T-bone steak, blackened and sinewy, comes well-done but still full of juice, smacked with black pepper and garnished with a big pile of black-rimmed grilled onions. Short ribs are baked and peppered like pastrami, then glazed with brown gravy. Oxtails, stewed to gelatinous richness, are as good as you'll find in Los Angeles outside L'Orangerie. And fried catfish -- a whole one plus three fillets to an order! -- are crisp and meaty. 9506 S. Avalon Blvd.; (213) 777-9250. Open Tues.Sat. 8 a.m.8 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $13$18. No alcohol. Takeout. MC, V.
Stevie's on the Strip
At Stevie's, catfish is well-seasoned, rolled in cornmeal, expertly fried, in the manner of, well, every Southern restaurant anywhere. And on Fridays, if you arrive before they run out, they have an extremely good gumbo, dark and rich, salty and blisteringly pepper-hot, with shreds of smoked chicken, plump shrimp, a couple of different kinds of sausage, and crab legs cut so that you can get at the meat without spattering your shirt with the viscous black goo. The flavor is equally earthy and marine, heightened by the murky herbal complexity that only filé can lend, full of garlic from the sausage, smoke from the chicken. In contrast to the vast majority of gumbos (including most of the best ones in New Orleans), in which the shellfish is cooked to tough strings, here the seafood comes nicely poached in the broth. 3403 Crenshaw Blvd.; (213) 734-6975. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $7; dinner for two, food only, $18$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
A Taste of New Orleans Seafood
Here are big po' boys of fried shrimp, red snapper, trout and catfish -- plus a po' boy stuffed with a peppery Louisiana hot link, which goes nicely with a cold can of Barq's. The gumbo at A Taste of New Orleans isn't, unfortunately, all that happening -- the pale bowl of broth isn't sufficiently thickened, either with okra or with enough filé, to make much of a difference, and it won't be served during summer months. Stick, therefore, to the jambalaya, surprisingly good, moist, shot through with shrimp and sausage, with a focused pepper heat. Or to the red beans and rice, which are every bit as dependable as they would be at a New Orleans bar at 3 a.m. 2545 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena; (626) 791-6879. Open Mon. 39 p.m., Tues.Thurs. 11 a.m.9 p.m., Fri.Sat. 11 a.m.10:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $9$21. No alcohol. Takeout and delivery. Cash only.
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