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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

Better fish to fry

Three restaurants serving comfort food to Hoosiers in the 812 area.

A lit up catfish heralds comfort food lovers to Kollker's award-winning diner. /Photo courtesy of Dan Kollker

Catfish is a staple of Southern Indiana culture, says Dan Kollker, owner of the award-winning Knob Hill Tavern in Newburgh. Traditionally a Southern food, “it sort of migrated its way up here,” he says. People who love this fried comfort food may have to fish outside of town. Some of the best places to stop for catfish are the quaint holes-in-the-wall on winding back roads. . Finding a spot that suits your tastes may require time, patience and an eye for the countryside. So 812 did some research and asked owners and employees of three popular catfish destinations how they hooked their customers.

The Red Wagon

6950 Frontage Road, Poseyville

Don’t let the exterior fool you. The Red Wagon may look like a barn on the outside, but owner Brent Tharp prides himself on the atmosphere in his five dining areas, which can seat 275 people. A buffalo head peers down over a fireplace in the game room. Tools and iron and steel creations made by local smithies hang in the blacksmith room. Stop by on a Friday when they prepare all-you-can-eat catfish fillets for $11.99. For the breading, Tharp uses 12 different spices. He also offers a catfish po’boy, catfish nuggets and the option of fried or grilled fillet dinners. From the artifacts on the walls of the blacksmith room to the food on the tables “most everything we have is made from scratch,” Tharp says.

The Porthole Inn

8939 E. South Shore Dr., Unionville

If you want to dine near the water at Lake Lemon, this place is worth the stop. Inside, the lights shine dimly above cushioned booths. A bar provides a variety of draft and bottle beers, and country, blues and rock bands play on the stage on Fridays. Donny Phillip, a manager of the Porthole Inn, has cooked catfish here for 14 years. His three tricks of the trade are using Crisco vegetable oil, buying farm-raised catfish and honing the time the fish spend in the fryer, he says as he pulls out a fillet to check the color. Phillip knows the breading is crisped just right when it turns a golden brown color. He sets the fillet next to two others on a plate fringed with two orders of hush puppies and two sides. The plate is then whisked out to a booth. This giant entrée costs $13.99. The only way to know he’s done a good job is when his customers are satisfied, he says. “If you don’t have heart, get out of the kitchen,” he says.

Knob Hill Tavern

1016 W. HWY 662, Newburgh

Drive long the banks of the Ohio River, and you’ll find roadhouses that compete for the best catfish title. If you’re looking for the award-winning Knob Hill Tavern, keep an eye open for the red glow of a neon sign with a catfish playing a fiddle. The restaurant opened in 1943, and much of the bar and dining area hasn’t changed since. The diner can accommodate 85 people, and when weather permits, Kollker opens up the outdoor dining area, which seats another 45. For the last 11 years, this restaurant has won the Evansville Courier & Press Readers’ Choice Award, which declares the tavern’s 8-ounce, bone-in catfish fiddlers, served with muffin-like corn sticks and a side of coleslaw, the best in the region. The entrée costs $11.50 with two hot fiddlers, and $8.95 for one. Don’t ask Kollker for his fiddler recipe, though. He inherited it from the previous owner, and he won’t share. “If someone else had it, we’d be No. 2,” he says.