This past weekend, Dr. Smooth and I traveled to visit my brother and his family a few hours away. My brother had heard great things about a local fish camp and wanted us to go there for dinner while we were visiting.
For those of you not raised in the South, let me briefly explain what a “fish camp” is. It is NOT a place that fish go during the summer, nor is it a place that you go to sleep in a tent and cast a line to catch a fish.
It is a restaurant that serves fish. Lots of fish. French fries. Hush puppies. And lots of other things battered and fried. Long picnic-style tables with benches. Usually red and white gingham plastic tablecloths, but that’s not a requirement. Quite often it’s decorated with taxidermied animals or fish, and it’s usually somewhere near water, although that’s not a requirement either.
Growing up, I was not a huge fan of fish camps. Mainly because I do not like fried catfish, the main staple of fish camp menus. (I know that a tiny, miniscule shockwave just rippled through the state of Mississippi. I have betrayed my very heritage.) Actually I do not like any fried fish. In fact, up until a couple of months ago, I did not even like fish prepared in any way. At all.
But I have been branching out and incorporating fish recipes at least once a week at home and trying fish dishes at restaurants.
So when my sister-in-law said we were going to a fish camp, my first response was not “OH NO!” as it would have been in the past. Rather, it was “Do you think they will have anything grilled or blackened?”
We didn’t leave the house quite as early as my brother wanted, (shocker!), then it POURED for nearly the whole drive, and we could tell just how late we were as we turned from the main road onto the small two-lane road for the camp. It was lined with cars on both sides.
It was a stereotypical but quaint fish camp. An old wooden building constructed over the water with decks and walkways and crooked railings weathered and worn. Charming and beautiful in its Southern-ness.
We slowly weaved through the throngs of people on the decks and around the outside bar to make our way inside, where we were greeted by an unbelievable collection of taxidermy. The Bloggess should surely visit this place if ever she is in town.
There was the front half of a life-size giraffe, stuffed and bowing his head to greet us. (Makes you wonder where the back half was?!) There were black bears and bobcats, rattlesnakes and water moccasins, possums and raccoons, and all sorts of monkeys and baboons, all in little vignettes of “outdoor scenery” props. The entry way was dominated by a huge aquarium that started about waist-high and went almost to the ceiling . It was filled with live animals. Turtles, fish, and an alligator that might as well have been stuffed for how often he even blinked, much less moved.
There were animals suspended overhead in all stages of flight, fright, and eeriness. (Taxidermied animals of course, not live ones.) There was even an entire alligator hanging from the ceiling just above head height, about 13 feet in length according to Dr. Smooth and my brother’s expert calculations. (Did you know the length of the gator’s snout from eye to tip of nose in inches is the length of the gator in feet?? I didn’t.)
There was even a deer’s rear-end with a monkey’s skull imposed on it underneath the hide as some sort of imaginary Florida Bigfoot. Bizarre-O!
I can give you all these details about the plethora of animals because we had a 2-hour wait. Yes, that’s right. A 2-hour wait. Folks, I normally would never wait 2 hours to eat anywhere unless Johnny Depp was going to be hand-feeding me while simultaneously giving me a lap dance. (And that wasn’t happening at the fish camp.)
At the end of the two hours, we were escorted to a windowside table with a quite pretty view of the water on one side and a large statue made of sea sponges in the shape of a monster on the other. The walls were lined with hundreds of fish plates. Like, plates with pictures of fish on them. Hundreds.
The menu was…..interesting. And they did offer grilled and blackened instead of just fried. They also offered a lot of things that weren’t fish. Like python, kangaroo, and yak. (And I know what a yak is, but when the word is used in reference to food, doesn’t it mean your food just came back up????)
Do you think they sell a lot of python? Ostrich? How fresh is the kangaroo? Is the meat frozen and shipped from lands far away for the rare occasion that someone wanders into the fish camp craving kangaroo?
Another curious item on the menu for me was the Toe Jam sauce. Gator Toes, served with a Spicy Toe Jam Sauce for dipping. Now that’s appetizing. Toe Jam Sauce. Honey, we’re out of toe jam sauce. Pass the Toe Jam Sauce, please. That’s the best Toe Jam Sauce I’ve ever had.
Am I the only one that finds that a bit disgusting? I mean, disgusting in relation to eating gator toes, grilled python, and fried yak, but disgusting nonetheless.
Our dinner itself was nothing to write home about, or even blog about. Not that great and not worth the wait.
Our evening finale was the appearance of a very much alive–not taxidermied–rat that scurried across the floor and into the sponge monster statue. He, of course, freaked us out and made me climb quickly (and not-quite-gracefully) up onto the picnic bench in my dress.
Can you imagine how freaked out he must have been? This must be like the horror house or a torture chamber for any live animal who wanders in and sees all the dead ones on display.
When we told the server, his response was classic. “Yeah, we get them because we’re over the water.”
That’s a great answer to give the customers. I don’t think I would have volunteered the fact that vermin are a common occurrence in my restaurant, but that’s just me.
Maybe it didn’t bother him. Maybe he was more of a like mindset with the lady who walked in the front door while we were waiting, looked around at all the stuffed, dead animals looking at her strickenly, and exclaimed, “Oh how beautiful! I could live here!”
So this was not the most stellar dining experience of my life. But I was reminded again that no matter where you are, you can have a good time. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the company of my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and son. I enjoyed the people-watching and the interesting atmosphere around me. I enjoyed having three hours to just connect with my family. And I enjoyed laughing over the entire situation and wanting to write about it all. It was a fun-filled night.
(But I still don’t like fish camps.)