Toadsuck catfish

Today’s Zippy, with a catfish buffet in the Toad Suck / Toadsuck AR area:

(#1) Buffet at the Toadsuck Catfish Inn (in Choctaw AR, on US 65 South), obviously of keen interest to Mr. (The) Toad

As is so often the case with establishments in Zippy strips, this one closed a few years ago — though alternatives, like Eat My Catfish in Conway, flourish in the area (which is prime catfish territory).

And, well, yes, there’s the name Toad Suck.

The place. Toad Suck is an unincorporated community in the middle of the state of Arkansas, just southeast of the Ozarks; the nearest town of any size is Conway. Conway on a map:

(#2) Note the bend in the Arkansas River

On the town, from the CityLab urban newsletter piece, “The Unlikely History of ‘Toad Suck,’ Arkansas” by John Metcalfe on 8/8/12, we learn that it has what is widely viewed as a deeply unfortunate name, which it has lent to (among other things) Toad Suck Bucks restaurant in Conway, the Toad Suck (or Toadsuck) Inn “Catfish ‘N Fixin’s” in Choctaw (in the Zippy cartoon), and the Toad Suck One-Stop in Bigelow (offering gas, groceries, souvenirs, bait and tackle, and more). Metcalfe writes:

[The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] oversees Toad Suck Park, whose manager, Scott Fryer, quickly pointed out that Toad Suck is “not actually a town, just a spot on the river.”

(#3) Toad Suck photo from the CityLab story

Fryer then got down to the business of explaining the “legend” behind the spot’s unlikely moniker.

“It’s where a ferry used to cross the Arkansas River from Faulkner County to Perry County,” he begins. “Well, the story is that at the time of the ferry boat, there was tavern on the Perry County side of the river that was a local hangout for folks to go down and drink alcohol and do other things frowned upon by the local communities. Some church ladies from nearby would say, ‘If you can’t find so-and-so, go down to the tavern. He’ll be sucking on a bottle so much he’s swollen up like a toad.'”

Fryer doesn’t see the appellation as anything bad. If anything, it’s helped attract “a lot of positive attention,” he says. “It’s a name that draws people in.”

For more than three decades, for instance, the nearby city of Conway has held a three-day festival in May called Toad Suck Daze that raises money for scholarships. The event organizers promise that it is Arkansas’ premiere destination for “great food and everything TOAD; the Toad Market, the Toadal Kidz Zone, and the world championship Toad Races along with our lineup of headlining live entertainment. You are sure to have a ‘toadtastic’ time.”

… the locale is a pleasant recreational haunt that just happens to attract a steady stream of tourists from the highway, who whip out their cameras to pose with the name sign.

Popular pastimes in Toad Suck include camping, fishing, picnicking and “just watching the river go by,” says Fryer, who sounds quite immune by now to visitors laughing at his park’s weird name.

The name. The bottle-sucking toad-swelling story is a stunning example of an obvious etymythology, but the alternative most commonly offered has problems of its own. From Wikipedia:

The origin of the name Toad Suck is disputed. Some believe that it received the name when idle rivermen would congregate at the local tavern where they would “suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads”, while others believe it is a corruption of a French phrase meaning “a narrow channel in the river.”

Corruption of a French name would be no surprise in this part of the country, and the Arkansas River is narrowed at the bend in question, but this much-repeated ‘narrow channel in the river’ story lacks the actual French phrase that was corrupted, and I can think of nothing with this meaning or something like it that might be corrupted to toad suck.

It is just possible that the toad suck in the name is just a N + N compound, referring to an eddy or pool often populated by toads and frogs. Involving this sense of the noun suck from OED2:

6. The sucking action of eddying or swirling water; the sound caused by this; locally, the place at which a body of water moves in such a way as to suck objects into its vortex.

This dialectal sense would then approximate the sense of the noun suck-hole / suckhole (in OED2: U.S. a whirlpool, a pond).

DARE has the noun suck (also suckpool; and see suckhole) in the sense

A whirlpool: a strong current — freq. used in place names. chiefly S Midl

with examples from 1778 (from se TN) on. Good on the region and the place name front, semantically at least in the right range, if not perfectly on target.

But all of this is enormously speculative.

Enough of Toad Suck; what about the catfish?

Catfish days. From Wikipedia:

Catfish (order Siluriformes or Nematognathi) are a diverse group of ray-finned fish. Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat’s whiskers, catfish range in size and behavior from the three largest species alive, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia, the wels catfish of Eurasia, and the piraíba of South America, to detritivores (species that eat dead material on the bottom), and even to a tiny parasitic species commonly called the candiru, Vandellia cirrhosa. Neither the armour-plated types nor the naked types have scales [hence they are not kosher]. Despite their name, not all catfish have prominent barbels. … Catfish are of considerable commercial importance; many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food. Many of the smaller species, particularly the genus Corydoras, are important in the aquarium hobby. Many catfish are nocturnal, but others … are crepuscular [active at twilight] or diurnal …

… Catfish have widely been caught and farmed for food for hundreds of years in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Judgments as to the quality and flavor vary, with some food critics considering catfish excellent to eat, while others dismiss them as watery and lacking in flavor …

In Central Europe, catfish were often viewed as a delicacy to be enjoyed on feast days and holidays. Migrants from Europe and Africa to the United States brought along this tradition, and in the Southern United States, catfish is an extremely popular food.

The most commonly eaten species in the United States are the channel catfish and the blue catfish, both of which are common in the wild and increasingly widely farmed. Farm-raised catfish became such a staple of the U.S. diet that President Ronald Reagan established National Catfish Day on June 25, 1987 to recognize “the value of farm-raised catfish.”

Catfish is eaten in a variety of ways. In Europe it is often cooked in similar ways to carp, but in the United States it is popularly crumbed with cornmeal and fried.

Fried catfish are a major cultural object in parts of the American South, notably including the wider Ozarkiana region, taking in much of Missouri, Arkansas, western Tennessee, and eastern Oklahoma. The fish are widely distributed there, and are fished for sport and for food. The area is also home to the sport of noodling for catfish, illustrated in a 9/9/11 posting of mine:

(#4) Winner of an Okie Noodling Tournament, with his 60.6-pound catch

(Personal digression. In the years when I commuted annually by car between Ohio State and Stanford — 1985 through 1998 — my most frequent route took me between St. Louis and Tulsa, through Ozarkiana, where catfish fries were a regular offering for dinner. In my experience the fried catfish were primarily a textural event, with taste interest supplied mostly by the herbs and spices in the cornmeal coating. Frankly, for me the main event was the accompanying fried okra, which I adore.

Otherwise, my personal experiences with catfish were as useful aquarium fish.)

As for catfish in and near Conway AR, they’re featured at (at least) Eat My Catfish, Hidden Valley Catfish, Sharks Fish & Chicken, Payton Creek Catfish House, the Hole in the Wall Cafe, and Sam’s Southern Eatery. The first of these (homepage here) seems to be famous throughout the state. From the restaurant:

(#5) An Eat My Catfish basket, with fries and hushpuppies (plus cole slaw and cajun seasoning); on hushpuppies, see my 9/27/14 posting “Slush Puppies”

This southern / cajun / creole place offers as specialties: fried catfish, fried chicken tenders, shrimp, crawfish, crab legs. With sides: fried okra, coleslaw, baked beans, fries, tomato relish, fried green tomatoes. And po-boys (on these sandwiches, see my 7/18/17 posting “POP with Poe”). And also fried pies for dessert: apple, peach, chocolate, coconut.

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