My wife and I had lunch at Catfish Country in Bartow recently. We had driven past it many times but it was always while going to or from another destination. We were happy to finally visit.
The interior decor is fun, what my wife describes as “upscale country fishing shack.” Lots of wood and lots of signs. We were there shortly after they opened and were among the first customers, so we were seated promptly and enjoyed pleasant service throughout the meal. By the time we left, it was quite busy. Our only real complaint with the experience was the music volume. They were playing country music, which we didn’t object to, but the volume was loud enough that it interfered with our conversation and our ability to hear the server.
We ordered iced tea to drink and started with an appetizer (or “nibblers” as they’re called at Catfish Country) of alligator nuggets. There was a wide variety of appealing nibblers, it took us a while to settle on one. The alligator nuggets were breaded and deep fried. It sounds cliche, but to me they taste like chicken. That’s not a complaint, just an observation if you’ve never had alligator before. It came with a Cajun dipping sauce (ranch dressing mixed with horseradish, according to my wife) – the sauce was a little spicy for me, but when I mixed it with some ketchup it was just right.
The menu has a broad selection of seafood and “landlubber” dishes, including daily specials. There is a lunch menu offered during specific hours Tuesday through Friday, and we ordered from that. Each entree comes with two sides and a hush puppy. My wife asked for a fried cod plate with green beans and French fries. The cod tasted fresh and was outstanding. We both loved the hushpuppy. Only the green beans were a little disappointing because she felt they tasted like canned green beans and did not have a lot of flavor.
(This is an aside that is not specific to Catfish Country. Almost every restaurant I’ve been to that serves hushpuppies is stingy with the quantity they provide. As far as I can tell, the primary ingredients are very inexpensive. Is there more to this that I’m missing? I would like more hushpuppies, is what I’m saying.)
For my own lunch, I ordered the catfish lunch plate with garlic mashed potatoes and baked beans. I know some people are squeamish about eating catfish. I generally feel that if a fish has been breaded and deep-fried, I’ll try it. I thought the catfish was quite good. The breading was solid without overpowering the fish. The mashed potatoes didn’t taste very garlicky to me, but they were very good and I liked the gravy. I liked the baked beans, but the sauce had a flavor that I was not completely thrilled with. Maybe balsamic, I’m not certain. The beans were good, I just wasn’t wild about them. Otherwise, the meal was excellent.
This was a little pricier than the typical Polk Eats lunch. With tip, our total came to $48. There was plenty of food for that price, we took leftovers home for lunch the next day. And the food was good, but neither of us felt that it lived up to other area seafood places (such as Mr. Fish or Fish City Grill). And the loud music really influenced our opinion of the experience. So even though Catfish Country is not our favorite Polk County seafood restaurant, we did enjoy the food, and the diverse menu has a lot to offer. Catfish Country is on Griffin Road in Bartow, just off Bartow Road south of East County Road 540A. Enjoy!