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April 16, 2014

Taste Bud: The accidental fish bites

LEO Weekly reader Mike J. wrote in to suggest I try the reuben sandwich at Mulligan’s Pub and Grill. In fact, he suggested I go there yesterday, if not last Tuesday. Or sooner.

So I went for lunch. And I told the friendly bartender in the Cincinnati Reds shirt that I was sent there on an urgent mission to try the reuben. She took my order, and I braced myself for some delicious sauerkraut and corned beef. And then, the unthinkable happened.

“We’re out of sauerkraut,” she reported.

My tears fell like rain that day, my friends. OK, not really. But I was prepared to finish my Southern Tier 2XIPA and move on to another food trough. What is strange is that I had planned breakfast with my dad that very morning at Wall Street Café and was going to write about the little place in Jeffersonville I’d heard so much about. And it was closed for Thunder. On a weekday. What the hell?

So I had struck out twice in a matter of hours. And just as it seemed as if there would be no Taste Bud this week, another Mulligan’s employee, Haley, said these words to me: “More people come for our cod than for our reuben.”

OK, then. Cod it shall be. I’m on a mission, dammit.

Then I learned that the fried cod is one of the house specialties, and that the fish is never frozen. Hmm. And it comes in many different forms, which also interested me. There’s the North Atlantic cod sandwich for $8.45. There’s the full-on, take-no-prisoners North Atlantic cod dinner that comes with two sides for $13.45. There’s even, ironically, a version of the reuben prepared with cod instead of corned beef. (Of course, I couldn’t try that, since there was no sauerkraut. Ahem.)

Heck, there’s so much cod on the menu that I’m surprised there isn’t a cod pizza. There’s a reuben pizza, but I couldn’t order that either (see above).

I decided to go for the fish bites appetizer, with homemade tartar sauce, and coated in house-made breading by “Miss Louise,” an employee of the establishment — Mulligan’s was formerly Kaelin’s — for more than three decades. Hey, sometimes bad luck turns to good when you least expect it.

So, as I was serenaded by 1980s hits by Duran Duran and Bon Jovi, my fish bites arrived, and the first thing I noticed was that not a single one of the five pieces of fish in front of me could be handled in a single bite. In fact, two of them would have made a fair-sized sandwich. Some were thin, some were thick, and they all were perfectly fried, light, flaky and tasty.

The batter looked to be a lightly seasoned blend of flour and cornmeal. I would have liked a bit of pepper in there, but I suspect it was concocted to stay out of the way of the fresh, mild cod. And while it was a tad greasy on the outside, that didn’t interfere with the white meat inside. It really was a pleasant experience — not at all heavy. Just delicious, light and comforting.

And then it hit me — it sort of reminded me of when my late grandmother (“Mammaw,” we called her) would cook up a fish fry during Lent. She always cooked whiting, and served it with fried potatoes and spaghetti with tomato sauce. She always seemed to get really excited about her spring fish fry and would ask each of us earnestly, “Do you like them whitings?”

Hell yes, Mammaw. Pass me some more. Comforting, indeed.

Anyway, the last Friday of Lent has passed, but that doesn’t mean the fried cod at Mulligan’s is out of season. I recommend it. And the best part is that I didn’t even need sauerkraut to make it good.