The Vegetarian Option: New Orleans Soul Food at Catfish in Crown Heights
Catfish, a Louisiana-style bar and restaurant, was an instant hit when it opened on Bedford Avenue early this year, becoming Crown Heights' favorite hipster hangout seemingly overnight. It's easy to see why: Catfish's long, sleek interior, dominated by a handsome, well-stocked bar, is inviting; so is the idea of whiling away the hours under the maple trees out back in the restaurant's small, but comfortable, patio.
The crowd at Catfish tends to be a drinking one, slurping down draft beers as well as NOLA-style cocktails like the Sazerac. But the restaurant serves a respectable lunch and dinner, too, with Louisiana classics such as gumbo, po' boys, and jambalaya taking up most of the real estate on the sizable menu. Catfish clearly keeps vegetarians in mind, too, offering one meat-free main dish as well as a host of sides.
That main course is Ratatouille ($10): stewed zucchini, yellow squash, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes and onions. The dish didn't taste particularly New Orleans-style (as the menu had promised); I also didn't detect the advertised black olives. But it was a solid version of the classic, with well-seasoned vegetables that maintained their texture and didn't get mushy, as ratatouille so often can.
Oven-roasted Sweet Potatoes ($5) were Thanksgiving in a dish: super-soft, intensely sweet candied yams nearly drowning in brown butter that tasted heavily of nutmeg. On their own, the potatoes were just a bit too sweet, but eaten with the other dishes, they were just right.
Collard and mustard greens ($5) braised with mustard and onions were soft and juicy, as good southern greens should be. They were laced with a touch of grit; let's hope that was a one-night mistake on the part of the kitchen. A sturdy New Orleans style cornbread ($5, pictured at top) was prepared with a bit of sugar, in the southern style, and was just a touch too dry. A dip in the brown butter left over from the sweet potatoes, however, moistened things up nicely.
The highlight of the vegetarian side dishes was a Cajun slaw ($5) of green cabbage and carrots: it was light, crisp, and not-too-heavy on the mayo.
Overall, Catfish is a friendly environment for vegetarians, with tasty sides that veer just a bit too far in the sweet direction. If your friends come here to chow down on shrimp and sausages, you won't be left out in the cold.
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.