Friday, December 28, 2007

A Trip to the Fish Camp

For those of you who don't know, I don't really know how to describe a fish camp and unfortunately, there's no easy description to be found online unless I feel like slogging through thousands of hits (which I don't). Those of you down here know exactly what I am talking about and NYCers might be familiar with Mary's - which bills itself as a fish camp (but Southerners would probably just laugh).

I think the original camps were actually just that - camps where you'd go and camp and fish and the fresh fish would be prepared right there. However it's evolved, and you no longer have to catch your own fish so now it's more of a simple restaurant where you go and get fish - usually fried (OK - did I just write that???).

Anyways, I went to a fish camp once - in Shelby. We were down here visiting my in-laws and we were driving back from a day spent in Hendersonville and we stopped off at a fish camp for dinner. Now I should preface this all by saying that I am EXTREMELY finicky when it comes to seafood and in general, I don't really like it all that much. I certainly don't crave it. But we went and I tried to be all local so I ordered salt & pepper catfish. The plate that was put in front of me ten minutes later had a pile of catfish all right - heads, tails, bones - everything. I freaked and haven't been back to a fish camp since.

But last night we had dinner with some of Marty's family and they traditionally go to a fish camp for a holiday gathering of sorts and so it was that I found myself at Fox's Fish Camp in Lincolnton.

Here's the amazing thing about Fox's: They are open from 4pm - 9pm Wed - Sat. That's 20 hours a week. A sign-out front indicates that take-out business on Friday and Saturday is handled out back - I don't know if that means they don't do take-out the other 2 days or if it's handled in different places on different days due to volume.

Another sign out front reads: No Drinking. No Profanity. Fox's bills itself as your "family seafood restaurant." Thankfully there's another sign indicating that Fox's is smoke-free (a rarity in rural NC).

The menu is pretty straight forward. Catfish. Flounder. Perch. Shrimp. Scallops. Oysters. Deviled crab. There's also chicken strips and hamburger steaks for those not partial to seafood and Thursdays and Fridays they serve baby back ribs.

The fish is fried unless otherwise specified (they have the means to broil although the menu warns that broiling will add an EXTRA 20 minutes to any order). They can also fry without breading - although I can't imagine how that would work...

Meals are served with baked potato or fried and slaw (mayonnaise or vinegar). And of course, plenty of hushpuppies.

Once again, I tried to be all local and so I ordered the flounder (filleted thank you very much). Marty assured me it was better than catfish and honestly, I think Marty made me blackened flounder (or maybe blackened catfish) not too long ago and I devoured it.

Here's the problem with fried fish: it tastes like fish. Even non-fishy fish like flounder still tastes mildly fishy because there's no seasoning. It's just fish, breading and oil. I wasn't a huge fan, although I did eat about half of a piece smothered in tartar sauce. I am already resolved that next time I am invited to a fish camp I am not even going to PRETEND that I like fish and just stick with the chicken strips.

Meanwhile, Marty's grandmother, Nanny, who sat to my right, ordered catfish - NOT filleted. Her plate looked an awful like what I got in Shelby and when she was done, there was a neat little stack of catfish skeletons, picked clean - almost like a cartoon in fact - on her plate.

My favorite part about Fox's though, was the ladies room. There's no doors on the toilet stalls - just shower curtains.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...