Save the Bay at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
I don’t know anyone who would turn down an opportunity to enjoy delicious food for a good cause. I certainly wouldn’t. That’s why I jumped at the chance to try Pearl Dive Oyster Palace’s “Beat the Blues and Save the Bay” Bottomless Blue Catfish special – and you should, too.
Native to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, blue catfish is an invasive species that was introduced to Virginia’s James, Rappahannock and York Rivers for sport fishing in the 1970s. Without any natural predators, and with a high tolerance for varying water conditions (such as temperature, salinity and habitat), the hardy species has proliferated and can now be found in almost every major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. These voracious predators can live for more than 20 years and reach weights of more than 100 pounds, eating at almost every level of the food chain and wreaking havoc on the bay’s delicate ecosystem. They prey on native populations of blue crab, rockfish, flounder, menhaden and shad (especially eggs and juvenile fish), hindering these species’ ability to grow at sustainable levels. (More info here.)
Tim Sughrue, a biologist and part owner of the seafood supplier, Congressional Seafood, has been quoted as naming the blue catfish the greatest environmental threat the Chesapeake Bay has ever faced.
For this reason, Black Restaurant Group’s chef/owner Jeff Black and fishmonger MJ Gimbar have been looking for ways to persuade diners to eat blue catfish. “Black Restaurant Group has been offering blue catfish for over a couple of years now and in the beginning it wasn’t an easy sell due to the customers’ preconceived notions about catfish,” MJ explained. “People tend to associate catfish with off, or muddy flavors, most likely as a result of eating pond catfish during their youth.” Thankfully, blue catfish has a much better flavor than farmed or pond catfish you may have tried before. The flesh is clean, mild and flaky, and it’s winning diners over.
The industry has seen a surge in blue catfish sales due to an increased awareness of the threat posed by the species, and Black Restaurant Group is capitalizing on this newfound popularity in the DC area. Their latest solution to the catfish problem is not only great for the bay, but it offers great bang for your buck. Every Friday, Pearl Dive patrons can order all-you-can-eat cornmeal crusted fried catfish, hush puppies, spicy cole slaw or bacon braised collard greens, and a pint of beer for just $23. The special is available from 11am-3pm in the bar and dining room and from 3pm-5pm at the bar only. MJ sees this as a win-win situation. “It’s simple, the more we eat, the less that are in the water, the better chance other species get to survive,” he said. And, “who can turn down delicious baskets of catfish?”
I was totally willing to do my part to save the bay by scarfing down some blue catfish. Take one for the team, right? The breading was crisp and savory and the fish was tender and delicious – definitely more rich and flavorful than other whitefish like tilapia or pollock. The braised collards had a bit of kick to them, but that’s not to say they weren’t tasty. The Denizens Southside Rye IPA (7.2% ABV) was a great pairing – the spicy rye malt and the citrus/pine notes cleanses the palette between bites of deep-fried goodness.
According to our server, the special (which just launched this month) has been pretty popular already, especially when customers learned about the environmental benefits of their meal. During my visit, I only made it through one basket of fish (it was surprisingly filling!), but I will definitely be back to do some more eco-service. 😉
Black Restaurant Group sources most of their blue catfish from Congressional Seafood. Tim Sughrue works with many small family operations, most of them out of Charlotte Hall, MD. They use trot line or hoop nets to catch the catfish, resulting in a very low by-catch and little environmental damage. Ordering blue catfish is a great way to remove the species from the bay, but it also helps support many local fishermen and their families.
This is probably the only time you can indulge in an all-you-can-eat meal guilt-free…so take advantage of it! Head over to Pearl Dive on Friday and dig in!
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
1612 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009
“Beat the Blues and Save the Bay” Bottomless Blue Catfish served every Friday in the bar and dining room from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and at the bar only from 3:00 p.m.– 5:00 p.m.
Exterior photo courtesy of Pearl Dive.