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Ruth's Creole Catfish (Image: J. Sheldon Photography)

Put a Fork in It: Creole Catfish at Ruth's Parkside Cafe

"Put a Fork in It" dives into Cincinnati's ever-expanding foodie scene and gives those standout dishes (you know, the ones that keep you coming back and ordering the same thing time after time) the love they so richly deserve. Dig in!

So, "Put a Fork in It" is dedicated to the dishes that you've just got to order when you go to certain restaurants, right? Well, at Ruth's Parkside Café in Northside, that must-order item is, without a doubt, the Creole Catfish. It never lets me down.

Ruth's starts with a perfect filet of catfish. The catfish, mind you, is a muscular fella. Not tough, but truly meaty. (And it always tastes ever so slightly of the waters from which it came.) It's not for dainty tilapia eaters, or those who think fish filets are square. But to me, the Kentucky girl that I am, it's the fish of home.

Perhaps that's why I love Ruth's so much: it's familiar, warm, friendly, and comforting. (Right in the worst part of last winter, for instance, they made a lamb stew that saved my life. True story.) Plus! It's right up the street from my house, so it's basically my second kitchen.

But back to the catfish. It's pan-seared and seasoned with all that good Cajun stuff (cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika, etc.). There's definitely a zing, but no so much that it distracts from the dish as a whole. The right Cajun seasoning is about flavor, not just heat.

Once it's been properly spiced, the fish is then dressed up. Resting beneath the catfish is a golden risotto cake (superbly cooked cheesy rice, fried into a little round). And underneath it all is a Cajun beurre blanc butter sauce (you had me at "butter"). They put just enough of this creamy, spicy magic on the plate to complement the fish, not drown it. It's the perfect combination of soft and crispy textures, the near-sweet of the rice contrasting with the tang and spice of the fish and sauce.

And finally, the beverage pairing. There's an old myth that states that if you drink water with fish, it will come back to life. So be safe: have a glass of white wine (any crisp white will do). That's what I do. And it's never failed me.

I know, I know This article is supposed to be about one dish, but (apologies to my editor) I just can't ignore my favorite Ruth's dessert. You've definitely gotta try the Gooey Butter Cake. Why? Because it is exactly as wonderful as it sounds. All the best basic things (eggs, butter, sugar) baked up into a chewy, crispy, gooey, sweet square of deliciousness. It calls to mind those old-fashioned desserts my grandmothers always made.

It's home and comfort, and no dinner at Ruth's Parkside Café is complete without it. (Just sayin'.)