5809 W I-20, Arlington. 817-765-2226. 10:30am-9pm Sun-Wed, 10:30am-10 pm Thu, 10:30am-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
For a restaurant that’s only six weeks old, the lines are already consistently long at The Catch, the Fort-Worth-based fast-casual Cajun chain that took over Mijo’s former South Arlington location. It’s easy to see why this place is hopping.
For months, the abandoned space sat empty and ugly. The changes the new management brought to the boxy building at the edge of I-20 where Arlington spoons Fort Worth are pretty amazing. The expanded restaurant now has a pleasant corrugated tin-roofed patio with 12 tables and strings of twinkly lights.
The real appeal, though, is the Louisiana-style seafood coming out of the kitchen –– a style of fare still rare in North Texas.
On my recent visit, the fried green tomatoes were almost perfect. Six half-dollar-sized slices of the fruit had been dredged in a crumbly, slightly tart corn meal batter and fried flawlessly without a hint of lingering grease. It’s a bit of an art to master cooking the dish so that the coating adheres to the skin while the tomato retains an al dente texture.
One of the best ways to test the mettle of a Cajun-style eatery is by ordering the gumbo. Catch’s didn’t have the throat-catching bite of some more authentic versions. However, the thick, peppery brown broth cradled a satisfying amount of shrimp, sausage, and crawfish tails and not too much rice. The dish was accompanied by tangy cheese grits –– possibly the best in town this side of Jon Bonnell’s kitchen.
My guests and I thought the addition of New England clam chowder to the decidedly Southern menu was eyebrow raising, so we had to try it. The oniony, bacon-heavy creamy chowder proved to be a tasty surprise, with generous chunks of chopped clams and just the right amount of tiny cubed potatoes.
A medium order of fried jumbo shrimp yielded eight plump, tail-on, butterflied morsels dunked in a well-seasoned coating that was a cross between fluffy tempura and sturdy corn meal. The basket arrived with a potato farm’s worth of shoestring fries covered in Slap Yo’ Mama seasoning, which was mostly salty and spicy with a tiny hint of sweetness. The seasoning salt also sits on the tables next to the Louisiana Hot Sauce if you need more.
The grilled fish basket was a better choice than the fried whitefish tacos. The striped pangasius –– a cousin to American catfish –– was battered like the shrimp, and its delicate taste was lost in the swaddle of a bland flour tortilla. The grilled version, thankfully, was well seasoned, generously portioned, and tasted clean like cod with a texture that was almost like sole.
Since my table had been double dosed in fries, we opted for a side of classic red beans and rice and the not-so-classic coleslaw. The beans packed a gloriously deep, spicy flavor thanks to the brown roux and chunks of sausage. Sometimes kitchens skimp on the meat, which is an integral part of red beans and rice, but not here. The side portion was easily enough to feed two hungry diners. The coleslaw, heavy on the mayo and poppy seed, was fairly unremarkable.
All the orders were served with hush puppies. The ping-pong ball-sized nuggets were more sweet than savory, with kernels of corn in the mix –– almost like a really good cornbread. They were excellent sponges for the saucy red beans.
The restaurant’s franchises are scattered through land-locked North and Central Texas (with three locations in Tarrant County, one in Johnson County, and another nine in the inland interior of our state). I just wonder if the coming-soon signs for The Catch restaurants in Houston are going to be appreciated in a place where there’s already ample fresh seafood.
Fried green tomatoes $6.99
New England clam chowder $4.99
Bowl of gumbo & cheese grits $7.99
Jumbo shrimp fried basket $10.99
Grilled whitefish $12.49
Fried whitefish tacos $8.49