“Don’t Pass the Salt” will be a semi-regular feature that glorifies the greatest gastronomical creations of Northwest Arkansas. Today’s feature is perhaps our region’s most delicious. I have tried dozens of hushpuppy varieties across the South and none compare to those found at the Catfish Hole in Fayetteville and Alma.

Although its exact origins are a mystery, the hushpuppy is an entirely Southern dish. Nineteenth century Americans, particularly Southerners, ate a lot of corn. The hushpuppy was deep fried, unlike other corn-based foodstuffs like corn bread, corn pone, griddle cakes, and corn dodgers that were a staple of the Southern diet. Unsurprisingly, the hushpuppy was a product of fish fries. Fish were fried with a dusting of cornmeal; the remaining cornmeal was mixed with water or milk, rounded into balls, and fried in the same oil as the fish. Onions, eggs, baking powder, and even sugar, became standard additions over time. The origins of the name “hush puppy” has traditionally been explained with the story of fish fryers trying to quell the barks of their hungry hounds with the fried balls of cornmeal.  Hmm sounds reasonable.

Pat Gazzola, owner of the Catfish Hole, told us that his recipe has Louisiana origins, but of course, wouldn’t reveal many details.  The hushpuppies served at The Catfish Hole aren’t exactly a “traditional” variety. They are light (thanks to a lift from flour and baking powder?) and slightly sweet, unlike the dense and gritty hushpuppies we usually come across. The onion flavor is subtle and entirely necessary.  The Catfish Hole hushpuppies are consistently well cooked, their insides are moist and exteriors crisp.  I like to eat mine with ketchup, the traditional dip, but I have come across some honey dippers.  Many people head to the Catfish Hole because they have the best fish (a fact that Mr. Gazzola was sure to point out), but I crave the hushpuppies.  Generally, I will eat around ten per visit and take home another five or so.

What is your favorite dish in Northwest Arkansas?