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Where Y’Eat: At Barrow’s Catfish, a Classic New Orleans Dish Recast for the Times

Fried catfish at Barrow's Catfish is based on the family recipe from Barrow's Shady Inn.
Ian McNulty
Fried catfish at Barrow's Catfish is based on the family recipe from Barrow's Shady Inn.

Old family recipes endure in New Orleans, and one has carried on for generations from the old Barrow’s Shady Inn to the modern Barrow‘s Catfish. These days, it’s also part of an encouraging success story amid the coronavirus crisis.

The other keys: innovation and safety first, a combination of old and new that’s helping a small restaurant not just survive but thrive in relentlessly challenging times.

Barrow’s Catfish opened two years ago this week in Hollygrove just a few blocks from where Barrow’s Shady Inn once stood. That older restaurant went back to 1943 when was among the longest-running Black-owned restaurants in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina struck.

The next generation of the Barrow Johnson family rekindled that legacy at Barrow’s Catfish. To get back open during the pandemic they’ve switched to takeout only,  with a carefully-orchestrated curbside pick up model. They call it full service curbside, a way to take care of the customers while keeping everyone safer.

The original Barrow’s Shady Inn was known for old school simplicity. There was a jukebox with Al Green’s “Love & Happiness” on heavy rotation, a hazy, tart lemonade and, for many years, fried catfish was the only dish served. 

Then, as know, Barrow’s catfish is juicy and flakes apart easily. It tastes more like catfish than like fish fry. A pinch of cayenne gives it a spice that’s slow, easy and vital. Nothing extreme, just flavorful, memorable.

Back in the day, a business founded by a Black family in the era of segregation persevered through the decades and grew into a neighborhood institution, one that drew regulars from well beyond its own neighborhood.

The modern incarnation is pressing forward in new times, finding ways to continue that legacy. There’s no jukebox at Barrow’s Catfish now, but even in the curbside service you can still feel the love and happiness.

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