DesBrisay Dines

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Big Easy’s Cajun catfish “fish & chips”

Trade in the usual battered variety for "fish & chips" done in the Cajun style

No matter how many different types of restaurants pop up on Preston Street’s stretch of Little Italy, it can be difficult to think beyond the three P’s — pasta, pizza, and panini — when looking for a bite in this part of town. Last week, however, I wandered into Big Easy’s after spotting a sign for its $10 lunch special and wondering what an upscale steak and seafood restaurant might be offering at that price (answer: a small filet mignon topped with crab).

I understand that the place, once owned by beloved football star Val Belcher who passed away more than a year ago, has been taken over by a friend who carries on the business in the same easygoing spirit. It continues to cater to those who enjoy the Jazz club-meets-sports-bar atmosphere and have an appetite for fresh oysters, thick steaks, and classic southern American soul food favourites.

The setting felt a little dim and dramatic for a quick lunch, but the service was friendly and efficient and the music was relaxing. And nothing says “respite from the daily grind” quite like the television tuned in to muscle-head men pulling large tractors using only the rope tied around their waists. (On my next visit, I might just opt to sit facing away from the TV).

But seriously, it’s the succulent blackened catfish and crispy sweet potato fries (listed as “fish and chips” on the Cajun part of the menu) that will bring me back. The mild, meaty, and wonderfully juicy fish filet had been generously rubbed with, among other things, paprika, cayenne, and dried thyme/oregano and baked in the oven (note: it’s neither battered nor fried). Its colour was more brick-brown than bronzed-black, but the pepper provided the telltale warming spiciness in the mouth and a squeeze of fresh lemon added plenty of zing. Fries were crisp, hot, and flavourful and did a marvelous job of soaking up the tasty (buttery?) juices on the plate.

Cost: Fish & chips: $12

Lunch hours: Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Big Easy’s, 228 Preston St., 613-565-3279,