Eating Local at the Top O’ the River in Gadsden, AL

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
August 13, 2015
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Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
August 13th, 2015
Share story

I didn’t want to leave my table. It was partly because the temperature outside was ridiculous hot and humid on that muggy July afternoon. And it was partly because it was still raining. But the biggest reason was because I had just enjoyed the best pan fried catfish and coleslaw I’d ever eaten and I just wasn’t ready to end the memory just yet.

I had decided to go for a scenic drive through the northeastern Alabama countryside and found myself in Gadsden. I did a quick search on Yelp looking for a top rated local place to eat. But really all I wanted was some pan fried catfish. I’m not sure why that was stuck in my head that day but it was all I could think about.

After a quick search I found Top O’ the River. The reviews were excellent and it was easy to access. I was sold. It was already past two in the afternoon so the post-church crowd would probably be gone.

Didn’t matter. The friendly waitress told me the church crowd had indeed already come and gone, but the parking lot was still full and a hundred guests were still dining inside. Locals love this little restaurant on the Coosa River so it’s always busy like this, she said.

Despite the massive crowd and large birthday party happening nearby the service was fast and friendly. Suzy, my waitress, had taken my order and brought my food within fifteen minutes. And oh let me tell you: the food was glorious. And there was enough to feed five of me.

Top O' the River in Gadsden, AL

The cornbread is served in this cast iron skillets literally right out of the oven; that’s why it’s brought to the table on a wooden plank.

First up was the small pan of cornbread. Soft, buttery cornbread. Slightly sweet. It was practically a dessert. I loved every bite and left none behind.

Top O' the River in Gadsden, AL

The coleslaw is served in rustic tin mugs and chilled perfectly.

Before I tell you about the coleslaw I have to admit: I don’t like coleslaw. My dad has always been a fan and my mom has worked on her recipe over the years, but I have just never found the taste or texture appealing. Every once in awhile I would come across a sandwich shop that would slap coleslaw onto my sandwich, but I would just hold my nose and finish it off.

I couldn’t stop eating this coleslaw. It was a little sweet and smooth. I didn’t taste that overpowering bitterness from someone using too much vinegar. Oh and it came in this cute little tin mug so I just had to finish it all. Twice. Okay yes I ordered a second helping of the coleslaw and ate half the second mugful as well. Don’t judge.

Top O' the River in Gadsden, AL

This was a huge meal but so good that none of this was left to take away later.

But despite the sweet cornbread and amazing coleslaw, the real star of the show was the pan fried catfish. My grandfather used to catch catfish at the cabin on Boone Lake in Tennessee when I was a kid. I was mostly terrified of the ugly looking fish but it always tasted good to eat! I’ve been a little obsessed ever since trying to find great pan fried catfish.

I found it right here at the Top O’ the River. It wasn’t local catfish, and my waitress didn’t know of any place local to even catch them (I’m sure there is). But wherever it came from it was lightly breaded, de-boned, and perfectly cooked. I savored every bite that practically melted in my mouth with a punch of flavor and sweet aftertaste. The only time during the meal I needed a knife was cutting up the baked potato that came with the meal (between the potato, cornbread, and hush puppies this meal was a carb overload).

The rain started coming down outside. It was one of the typical summer afternoon thunderstorms. Funny how it always seems to rain every in the Southeast at the same time on summer afternoons. I was fighting off a food coma from the amazing meal I had just finished and the gentle rain outside was not helping. I sat back and enjoyed the view out the massive picture window looking across the river landscape outside. It was peaceful and refreshing.

The rain stopped just as quickly as it had started and it was time for me to go. I had been there almost an hour. I had to fight off the urge to order some more coleslaw to take with me, reminding myself my hotel room in Chattanooga didn’t have a fridge. That wouldn’t have mattered anyway; I would have eaten that coleslaw before making it back to the hotel that night.

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