The catfish is the dog of the fish kingdom.
Don't believe it? Show me an uglier fish than a catfish. I scuba dive. I have more than 250 dives to my credit, and I've never seen any marine life that can scare barnacles off a battleship like a catfish.
It has the mouth of an anaconda, whiskers that look like tentacles, and it grows to the size of a Honda Civic. Fortunately, they're freshwater fish, so I've never seen one underwater. A shark feed is much more pleasant, thank you.
However, if you want to see catfish, don't go swimming. Go to Texas. You can throw a cowboy hat down nearly any street in Texas and hit a restaurant serving Mother Nature's grotesque joke on the sea world.
This is one fish I've always avoided eating. Like those sea cucumbers that resemble giant slugs, I don't eat anything that could taste as bad as it looks. Guess what, folks? I learned something.
Don't judge a fish by its face.
Catfish is delicious. Texans should know. According to Texas-Best.com, Texans eat more catfish than the rest of the world combined. SuperPages.com carries a list of 100 Texas towns that have catfish restaurants.
Catfish Charlie's. Catfish Heaven. Uncle Roy's Catfish Grill. From Abilene to Wichita Falls, you can chow down on the popular fish.
I found my catfish heaven driving up U.S. 87 to Lubbock. On a broiling 100-degree day, I passed through the tiny town of Brady.
On a sign of an old, wooden restaurant called Brady's, haphazard letters spelled out, "Best Hamburgers, Sirloin Steak, Cat Fish (misspelled in special red letters), Chicken Fried Steak in Texas." I slammed on the brakes.
Inside, the walls were lined with John Wayne photos, a lithograph of the Texas Lone Star and a real longhorn's horns . I wasn't in a restaurant, I was on the set of "Gunsmoke."
No wonder. I pulled out my map, and Brady is smack dab in the geographical center of the state. I was truly deep in the heart of Texas.
The menu described their catfish special as "Farm raised, hand fed premium quality catfish with granny's secret recipe."
They feed these things by hand? Last time I googled "catfish," I saw a photo of a man's leg sticking out of a catfish's mouth.
I took a seat alongside locals wearing T-shirts with the sleeves cut off, bandannas and dirty ball caps. The Food Channel showed a guy putting cheese inside spliced hot dogs. How did Bon Appétit miss this place?
Then Brady's Catfish Special arrived. A great way to break up an eight-hour drive in August through Central Texas is learning that 25 million Texans can't be wrong.
On my plate were four long strips of catfish, lightly grilled and coated with a seasoned crust that made me want to suck it more than eat it. It tasted like halibut, except a little less flaky.
Who knew? With a big tub of tartar sauce I didn't need, baked beans, slaw and jalapeño hush puppies I didn't want, it has to be one of the nation's best seafood bargains at $7.99.
Catfish places are no place to take a date. I can't imagine a woman giving me a second shot if I took her to the Catfish King of Waco. That's why I went alone.
It's not hard to find. Just cruise down South Valley Mills Drive and soon, high above what looks like a converted Denny's, you'll see this giant yellow crown emblazoned with "Catfish King" on it.
It was not a good sign. I walked in and only three tables were occupied. This wasn't a good sign, either.
Yet once again, catfish was the star of the joint. The four pieces were breaded and deep-fried, yet left no grease on my napkin.
I often say the only thing pretty in Texas are the women. Catfish aren't very pretty, and let's face it, they don't have much class. But they do have good taste.
If you go ...
Brady's, 503 S. Bridge St., Brady. 325-597-9990
Catfish King of Waco, 1201 S. Valley Mills Drive, Waco. 254-753-7700