If you're traveling through North Alabama, stop at two of our favorite fish houses.

The Dish on Catfish
Families fill the booths at The Southland Restaurant in Sheffield for the fried catfish.
| Credit: Gary Clark

Ask 10 people in North Alabama where to find the best fried catfish, and expect 10 different responses. Whether filleted or whole, this Southern icon holds a sacred place in the hearts of locals.

In my hunt through the upper region of the state, I found two main types of batter, three different slaw bases, and enough variation on the all-important hush puppy to keep my doggies quiet for a long, long time. After picking my favorites, I realized they're all in cities that dot U.S. 72 like belt notches. Incidentally, my research may have created a few new holes in my own belt.

We'll See You in Hollywood
Finding Hollywood is not as easy as it sounds. County 213 sneaks up on you when you're zipping along U.S. 72 between Huntsville and Chattanooga. Even after turning off, you may need to rely on a little directional intuition to find Mud Creek Bar-B-Que.

But anyone you pass can tell you how to find it. Of course, they might call it Carver's or Leck's. A local institution since Lester "Leck" Carver opened it in 1946, the restaurant is now run by his grandsons. While the name changed, the family recipes have remained the same. Large windows offer the only thing here as good as the catfish: views of peaceful Mud Creek.

Mud Creek Bar-B-Que: 804 County 213, Hollywood, AL; (256) 259-2493. Batter: light, cornmeal-based. Slaw: The sweet, mayonnaise-based White Slaw goes best with catfish, but they also offer a mustard-based Yellow Slaw. Hush puppies: buttery. Plate prices: $6.10-$7.80, fillets; $5.25-$6.50, whole.

A Traditional Take on Catfish
From the 1950s-era sign out front touting "air-conditioning" to the laid-back, family atmosphere inside, The Southland Restaurant is proud of its tradition.

Co-owner Linda Scott still buys her catfish from the same farm her family did more than 50 years ago and dips it in cracker-meal batter the way they did.

To be fair, I can't mention Southland without telling you about, in my opinion, the perfect ending to your meal: a slice of the lemonade pie ($2.10).

The Southland Restaurant: 1309 South Jackson Highway, Sheffield, AL; (256) 383-8236. Batter: The cracker-meal-based batter makes it light and flaky. Slaw: With a vinegar-and-sugar base, it is sweeter than expected. Hush puppies: soft and light. Plate prices: $5.25-$10.50.

Honorable Catfish Munch-Ons in North Alabama
Newbern's: Florence, AL; (256) 766-1626. Verdict: Nothing extraordinary, but I really liked that it had a solid package―good catfish, good hush puppies, and good slaw. Plate prices: $6.25-$8.50.

Walton's: Rogersville, AL; (256) 247-0696. Verdict: Good catfish, even if it was a tad too salty for my taste. Three different slaws, including a hot mustard-based one that, in waitress Ronda Rikard's words, "has a little zap to it."

Corner Cafe II: North of Florence in the community of St. Florian; (256) 768-0888. Verdict: Nice, light catfish, but the mayo-based slaw was a little soupy. Plate prices: $6.20-$8.20.

This article is from the June 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.