Sure as the Gillett Coon Supper can be cold and snowy, the Grady Fish Fry is certain to always be a blistering event, if only for those being raked over the coals or standing over those hush puppies. For me, though, it was cool and sweet, like the watermelon served by older men, as much as one would want to consume.
Of course, that wasn’t my thought when I was stopped dead on Interstate 530 heading south from Little Rock. Construction kept me from the very start of the experience, and from purchasing my ticket and entering right at 4 p.m. I wasn’t certain if I would still be received, coming in a half hour late. I shouldn’t have worried.
This welcomed me at the ticket taker’s table.
And then, it was pick that catfish up with some fries and get going. While it had been about 10 degrees cooler than Little Rock outside the gate, it was muggy hot inside the pavilion. That didn’t keep me from catching some shots of that marvelous catfish and the men working over the hot grease.
I will be completely honest here. I’m not a huge catfish fan. I try to stay away from cornmeal breading and I don’t think everyone does a good job of frying fish. That being said, I hadn’t even gotten a piece on my plate before I had one in my mouth. Oh golly, that was good.
Sometimes food fits the setting – and that was certainly the case here at Grady.
At the end of the pavilion, there was a mechanized affair going on. This was the famed hush puppy machine I’d heard about. The late M.E. Argo, a machinist and Grady Lions Club member, made the hush puppy machine back in the 1950s in his welding shop. Now, I won’t tell you how it was made, because for one I don’t rightly know and for two it’s unique. Go figure it out yourself. I can tell you it starts with a marvelous batter…
which is then fed into this machine.
The mechanism pumps out two dribbles of hush puppy batter at a time into very hot grease.
Men with paddles slowly shepherd them down the trench, turning them and ensuring they’re all this deep orange brown at the end.
See for yourself.
Now, if it wasn’t for the heat, I could sit and watch this all day – but we’re talking molten lava air here, bubbling bursts of greasy, wilty breeze blowing forth. It was like standing over an open furnace – which, in many ways, it was.
That’s no joke. The state helps the Grady Lions Club out by providing them with some labor for the day, along with the talents of the Cummins Prison Band, which blasted out hits from The Temptations and the Eagles (which would have been even better had they known all they words to "Lyin’ Eyes").
Of course, the prerequisite shot of my dinner:
Of course, once you’re seated, you’re fair game. I was approached by no less than six different politicians while consuming my repast. Mike Ross even sat down close to me and chatted with a couple of lovely ladies.
Asa Hutchinson was also working the crowd, as were a dozen or better candidates for state offices. In fact, there were booths outside the gates not only for different contenders but to register to vote as well.
The action never slowed down. The band would pause for a few minutes for a break, and the volume of the crowd swelled. At any particular point from five o’clock on, I could look towards the gate and see a significant line of individuals waiting their turn for catfish.
Follow the I Like Grady Facebook page, and mark your calendar for the third Thursday in August. You’ll have a real good time.
For an intriguing story on the Cummins Prison Band, visit Kate Jordan's blog.