Gramma’s Kitchen Review – Walcott Iowa

Gramma's Kitchen Review

Gramma’s Kitchen Review

If you’ve ever driven across Iowa on Interstate 80 (Mainstreet USA), you’ve either stopped at this exit or at least noticed the signage for “The World’s Largest Truck Stop.”  Yep, it’s at this exit.  But that’s not where I stopped this trip, I stopped across the road at Gramma’s Kitchen because two years it ago, it made the list of the best tenderloins in the state, according to the Iowa Pork Producers.

So what exactly is a tenderloin?  It’s a boneless pork chop, smashed with a hammer or other blunt instrument until it’s enlarged and very thin, the drenched in a coating or batter, deep-fried, plopped onto a bun entirely too small for the piece of meat, and dressed up with pickles, onions, and occasionally mayo.

I opted for tots on the side, pickle was included, a damn fine one, too, crispy half-sour.

The sandwich was perfect, crispy coating, but the meat was still juicy inside. Bakery style bun, soft yet substantial enough to hold the ample cut of meat.

The tots were piping hot, right from the fryer, and lightly seasoned.  I hated “baked” tots, not crispy enough.  If your tot hasn’t got crunch, why get them?

The restaurant has an attached bar with an abbreviated menu, and throughout the building are Iowa souvenirs as well as some preserves and the like.

As is my habit, I grabbed a colorful souvenir magnet, even tho I have no place to put them anymore, my frig is stainless steel.

Take a gander at Gramma’s menus and start planning your next road trip.  Oh, almost forgot, you don’t have to get the tenderloin battered and fried, most places will happily grill one for you instead.

Gramma's Kitchen Review

Fried Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with Tater Tots










Gramma’s Kitchen Review

Gramma’s Kitchen Review

Franks Chicago Shrimp House Review

Franks Chicago Shrimp House Review

Franks Chicago Shrimp House Review

Franks Chicago Shrimp House ReviewFor people who don’t live around Chicago, fried shrimp probably isn’t the first things that pop into their minds as a “Chicago food.”  No, you’re knowledge probably ends at Deep Dish Pizza and Italian Beef Sandwiches.

But fried shrimp is a thing, and there are dozens of outlets for it, including some mini chains.  Seems WW II GI’s, returning from the South Pacific, had developed a hankering for the tasty deep-fried morsels and more than a couple of them set up the first simple take-out stands.

Today, in addition to regular or “Chicago style” (slightly spicy), many stores sell a bit of chicken, fish, frog legs, scallops and fried vegetables.  Full typical menu looks like this:

My chain of choice is Franks Chicago Shrimp House with four outlets scattered around the city, including the one I patronize in the far northwest suburbs.  Food is sold in 1/4 increments. I always go for the catfish strips, and today, feeling bold, I threw in some onion rings and a couple of frog legs.  They do not offer local fish like walleye, smelt, perch or blue gills, but there are other places that do.

Their breading is a mix of flour and cornmeal, same for the onion rings which I suspect are made in house, because they are inconsistent, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense at all, but rather that they are irregular sizes and shapes.  Food service rings are usually identical in those regards.  It’s a nice size ring, with a juicy circle of real onion inside, not “onion bits” as some fast food joints sell.  BTW, best fast food onion rings?  Arbys.  Seriously.

The catfish is meaty flesh, slightly flaky, but firm. The breading is not seasoned, or if it is, it’s so slight as to not be detectable by old fart taste buds.  The usual array of sauces are available for dripping, tartar, cocktail, lemon juice, bbq and more.

I don’t get over there enough.  It’s a dozen or so miles from my house and I rarely have a reason to head in that direction.  I’ll make the effort in the future!




Frank's Chicago Shrimp House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Franks Chicago Shrimp House Review

Franks Chicago Shrimp House Review

Nana Js Soulful Kitchen Review Ocean Springs MS

Nana Js Soulful Kitchen Review

Nana Js Soulful Kitchen Review Ocean Springs MS

Nana Js Soulful Kitchen ReviewNana J’s is one of those places that leaves you really conflicted.  On the one hand, you want to tell everybody how wonderful it is.  On the other, you don’t want to go back someday and find a line out the door because it’s become so popular.

It’s small, unassuming, short menu which mostly changes daily, and your entree choice includes a couple vegetables and dessert.  There are five-six choices daily, all made from scratch. ALL MADE FROM SCRATCH.

In a way, it reminds me of Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, before Katrina.  Four tables, one woman, a cast iron skillet and the best fried chicken you’ve ever had anywhere.

Whatever your choice of entree at Nana J’s, be prepared to have it be the best version of that dish you’ve ever had anywhere.  The same claim for the sides and dessert.

The Deets

I went with fried catfish, some days they have filets, some days whole, bone-in, some days both.   My side choices were potato salad and collard greens. A piece of cornbread is included on every plate; dessert the day I was in was banana pudding, complete with the requisite ‘nilla wafers.

The fish was done perfectly, crispy breading, nicely seasoned, with steaming flaking moist flesh enclosed.  House-made tartar sauce was the best I have ever had anywhere, yes, you could spoon it if you were inclined.  It was so far beyond the usual glop of mayo and pickle bits or chives.

Potato salad was superb, it was like creamy deviled eggs with potato bits. Went down easy.  Likewise the greens, like potato salad a dish most restaurants seem to deliberately screw up.  Nana J’s was smoky, salty, crisp and buttery at the same time. Could almost convince me to be a vegetarian. OK, not quite.  But you get my point.

Banana pudding, something I haven’t had since childhood since I’m not much for desserts on any occasion.  Wonderful.  Flavorful, smooth, creamy, with pieces of vanilla wafer.  As it should be.

I posted after I left the restaurant that I’ve been fortunate to have dined in 65 countries, and this meal easily popped into my list of top five meals anywhere, anytime.  Meant it.  I go to the Gulf Coast every year, and hands down I’ve never had better food on the coast.

Personable, friendly, charming, helpful host/server as well.

They have a website, but it doesn’t tell you much.  You’d be much better off checking their Facebook entries from time to time.  Go there. Often. But don’t tell anybody else about it!

Nana J's Soulful Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nana Js Soulful Kitchen Review Ocean Springs MS

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review – Maquoketa, IA

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Restaurant Review

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

You must do this once, at least. An actual catfish farm that has a restaurant open only Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, each night offering a full menu as well as one or two AYCE specials. I went on a Friday night, specifically for the AYCE catfish, your choice, whole or fillets. Served ‘family style” your entree is accompanied by a sweet and tangy creamy slaw, and waffle fries. Full bar, and drinks are pretty cheap.

Here’s the kicker. Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. We arrived at 5pm figuring we’d slide right in, but we waited a full two hours to be seated.

Once we were, and ordered, dinner comes fast as long as you order the specials. I can’t speak to the speed of the other menu items. The night I was there people were ordering the catfish or a Flintstones-sized slab of beef.

While you’re waiting, if the weather is pleasant, there are plenty of natural features to see outside, some ponds, a waterfall, plenty of wild fowl.

Use your GPS to get there. I mean it. Otherwise you’ll end up like me driving down the road and saying repeatedly “this can’t be right!”

Full menu

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

Perfect Onion Rings

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

Stones Throw Brewing Review Little Rock AR

Stones Throw Brewing Review Little Rock

Stones Throw Brewing Review Little Rock AR

Stones Throw Brewing Review Little Rock ARMeh. Though I didn’t go for the beer, but I hear it gets high marks for a microbrewery. (What’s smaller than a microbrewery? A mini microbrewery?  Anyway, this place is pretty small, in a pleasant residential section of LIttle Rock.

Some friends wanted to meet there, so meet we did. They all ordered beers. I had a diet cola. I always have a diet cola. Or bottle watered. Do I have a drinking problem and purposely stay away?  Nope, never did.  But after I passed into adulthood, paying to consume something that was either going to make me sick or lose a day – seemed silly.  Still does.

Four persons.  Two ordered food.  One ordered the black bean burger, one a catfish strip basket with cole slaw and fries.  Bean burger came with spinach, onions, hummus, and mushrooms with a maple cayenne mustard on a vegan bun.

The joint wasn’t crowded and we were the only ones who ordered food.

Ten minutes. Twenty. Thirty.  I inquire of the (only) waitress.  “What, well I put that order in, let me check.”

She passed by the table a few minutes later with the news “He was just plating it, it will be out in a minute.”

Result?  It wasn’t.  “He” started on the order when she went back.  So at the 45 minute interval, out cames the food, prettily plated (well, in baskets), bean burger first bite – satisfactory.  Catfish first bite. “Does this look raw to you?”

It was.

Good lord, people own up to your mistakes.

And millenials? Speak up when you aren’t happy with goods or service. Expect better.

It was resolved by taking it off the bill.  Really?  That’s it?

Maybe the beer is good.



Stone's Throw Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Stones Throw Brewing Review Little Rock AR

Stones Throw Brewing Review Little Rock AR

Cracker Barrel Review, Mount Vernon, IL

Cracker Barrel Review, Mount Vernon, IL

Cracker Barrel Review, Mount Vernon, IL

Catfish, fries, greens

I’m not a regular. I stopped in one a few years ago and had breakfast, and my immediate impression was they had gone down hill. Pre-prepared heat and eat entrees and such.

I changed my mind last week after dinner at the Paducah, KY location. Immediate impression upon sitting down was the menu had expanded and the prices had been lowered.

And we had an angel of a server in “Abigail.” Young, enthusiastic, new to the job, not yet suffering from the malaise that comes from working in the service industry too long and having to put up with people’s inane requests.

I had the single filet of fried catfish, with choice of sides (fries and greens) and everything was prepared perfectly. $8. Dinners include ‘made from scratch biscuits or corn muffins.’ Didn’t there used to be more ‘pass arounds?’ Maybe not.  Also? “New” Southern Fried Chicken. Superb.

Anyway, it was great. Food was great, Abigail was great.


Find one near you:

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cracker Barrel Review, Mount Vernon, IL
Cracker Barrel Review, Mount Vernon, IL

Da Catch Review – Rockford, IL

Da Catch Rockford Review

Da Catch seems to be a franchise, I’ve seen them in other cities, but I couldn’t find any info on that. There are a few locations in Rockford, IL, which is where I bumped into them. Fried fish is the specialty of the house, the full menu is shown below.

They also feature wings, tenders, and Philly cheese steaks, as well as bulk orders on the fish and shrimp, and a few other fried sides choices.

I grabbed a catfish “meal” which comes with 3-4 fillets, french fries, and I got a side of fried okra for an additional charge.

I’m gonna guess the fish is dusted with lemon pepper, seems to be a thing around these parts.

The breading was seasoned corn meal and not overbearing. Fries were good, so was the okra. At under $10, it’s a good value. The restaurants are “simple trappings,” seems like they are more geared to drive thru/pick up service than dine in, but there are tables. There are multiple locations in Rockford.

Da Catch Rockford Review

Street view

Catch Fish & Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Da Catch Review

Da Catch Review

The Flying Fish Review – Little Rock, AR

The Flying Fish Review – Little Rock, AR

Flying Fish Little Rock Review

With about a dozen locations, the Flying Fish is a fish and seafood-centric eatery, offering fried, grilled, broiled and steamed fish and seafood, as well as po-boys, gumbo, tacos, and appropriate side dishes. The full menu of the Little Rock location I visited is here. A few salads, chicken strips and a lonely hamburger round out the menu.

The Little Rock location is “counter service” – you order back by the kitchen, await your vibrating beeper to go off and then collect your food from another station. Tables at this location are at the front of the restaurant, facing President Clinton Avenue (which runs to the Clinton Presidential Library, within walking distance. This is also the “marketplace section” of downtown, so there are plenty of other distractions nearby.

I ordered the two filet catfish basket, which comes with fries and two hush puppies ($9.50). I would have liked some slaw, but lately restaurants seem to think coleslaw has some actual monetary value and charge the same price for it as they would for most any slide, and I object to that.

This location has beer, wine, frozen margaritas, and the usual soft drinks, lemonade, iced tea and coffee.

I pronounce the experience a success. I’ve been on a catfish jag lately, and this was great. Crispy, light breading, easy on the corn meal. Pretty ordinary fries, and I can take or leave hush puppies. Something else I’m not sure restaurants should charge for.

If you’re in one of the dozen cities Flying Fish has planted their flag, I recommend it. Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas only.

Flying Fish Review

Flying Fish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


The Flying Fish Review

The Flying Fish Review

Soul Fish Review – Little Rock, AR

Soul Fish ReviewIt can sometimes be a challenge to find satisfactory restaurants in Little Rock that are open on Sundays.  Fortunately, there’s Soul Fish, right downtown on Main Street.  Emphasis at this eatery is “bonafide Southern,” with a further emphasis on seafood. (See menu below).

We started with the smoked catfish dip, something I’ve never encountered, and I’m sorry about that, because it was delicious.  Smokey, salty, creamy, accompanied by tortilla chips which I would bet are made in house.  A light fry, crispy without being jaw jarring, light salt. The perfect go-with.

I went for the fried catfish basket, there are three choices for the size of serving, I went for the small one, since I was on the road, didn’t want to have leftovers.

The fry breading on the fish is exceptional. Cornmeal based, with a hint of one of the Creole seasonings (my palate isn’t sophisticated enough to tell them apart – could be Tony Chachere’s, Zatarains, Old Bay, or a concoction dreamed up in-house.  In any case, it’s really tasty.

There’s a wide choice of sides with baskets and plates, I chose natural cut fries, and slaw and hush puppies were included.  The slaw was excellent, rough chopped cabbage with a dressing that is creamy, sweet and tart at the same time.  Other sides?  Cucumber Salad • Black Beans • Corn • Cajun Cabbage • White Beans • Baked Sweet Potato • Fried Okra • Coleslaw • Black Eyed Peas •  Mashed Potatoes • Green Beans • Sweet Potato Fries • Broccoli • Mac N Cheese • Zucchini • Collard Greens • Pickled Green Tomatoes.

My dining companion was my daughter and after a major assist of plowing thru the dip, she opted for the Caesar salad with blackened shrimp added. Also delicious. Very fresh greens and the shrimp were cooked exactly right.

Children’s menu, desserts, beer and wine available.  I’d return.  You should go.  Appetizer, two entrees, two beverages, tip, $40.

Open daily at 11A. Soul Fish has four locations; in addition to Little Rock, find three locations in greater Memphis.

Soul Fish Review

Smoked catfish dip

Soul Fish Review

Fried catfish basket


Soul Fish Review

Menu – click to enlarge




Soul Fish Little Rock Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Soul Fish Review

Soul Fish Review

Arkansas Menu Labeling for Catfish

Appropo to my article the other day about mislabeled fish in restaurants, the state of Arkansas wants to do something about it.

There’s a move to be able to label specific origins of catfish on restaurant menus statewide, drilling down as far as “farmed,” “wild” “wild-river” “wild lake” and so on.

Not sure how many diners care about this, but it’s a step towards cleaning up the much bigger problem of you not getting what you think you ordered, which is a huge problem in the seafood biz.

Arkansas Times article

Menu labeling catfish



Arkansas Catfish identification

Arkansas Catfish identification

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