Immediately after my lunch at Catfish Corner, I had to take a little nap on the office couch, and if someone had volunteered to stand by and fan me with a big palm leaf, I wouldn't have said no. Lunch may not be the best time to stuff yourself full of cornmeal-crusted and fried catfish, plus potato salad, beans and rice, and a corn muffin (and then your dining partner's corn muffin as well). Let my experience be your guide: Don't go to Catfish Corner if you have to accomplish something afterward.

This is cafeteria food lifted to a level your high-school dining room only dreamed about. The catfish fillets ($9.25 for a dinner plate, with the aforementioned sides) are meaty and tender, lightly coated with cornmeal, and entirely grease-free.

There's a big sign over the cash register acknowledging the provenance of the fish--farm-grown somewhere in Alabama--and I'd like to tip my hat to those folks. In my opinion, catfish is as good as halibut for frying (if not better), and definitely better than the red snapper--which is not a quality issue (the snapper was fresh and clean-tasting), but simply one of texture. Flaky fish wants to be sautéed or baked, and then drizzled with spicy, buttery sauce, such as is offered with the Tuesday-special Cajun Style Catfish ($5.25).

I'm pretty sure the creamy, bright-yellow potato salad was tinged with some sort of curry spice, but after I burned my mouth on Louisiana Hot Sauce, I could no longer discern between cumin and cayenne. The hot sauce was brought in to doctor my bowl of beans and rice, which was a little plain and soupy, although I happily ate all of it. I love cafeteria food in a big way, no doubt the result of a Northeastern boarding-school education, when you live and breathe the cafeteria for three of your important growing years. This may explain why bright-yellow potato salad inspires curiosity rather than fear, as well as my enduring love of condiments.

I had to turn my back to the tank full of diving, zipping fish, with the long black shadows of a couple of catfish drifting regally through it like a pair of éminence grises. I don't like being watched by my food, no matter how meaty or delicious.

Catfish Corner
2726 E Cherry St, 323-4330.
Mon-Fri 11 am-10 pm, Sat noon-10 pm, closed Sun.

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