Lent is the season of fish frys, and Louisville might just be the fish fry capital of the Southeast.
But at Passtime Fish House in Jeffersontown, it’s fish fry season all year long, or so I had heard. Heck, Passtime, which has been a J-town mainstay since 2001, even hails itself as “best fish sandwich in Louisville.”
I figured the time was right to go check it out for myself.
For the uninitiated, Passtime looks, inside and out, like a roadhouse you might see in a 1970s movie. The faded wood building is peppered with beer signs, as is an attached covered patio area that looks a bit like a really large gazebo.
Inside is a long, narrow room with a bar and more tables than I cared to try and count, along with more beer signs. I took a seat at the bar and was quickly greeted by an affable guy in a T-shirt that read “Up in Smoke University.” When talking to me, he referred to me as “my man.”
The menu is fairly brief, with the vaunted fish sandwich the centerpiece. Basic appetizers like buffalo wings and chicken fingers lead into a seafood menu with fried shrimp, fried oysters, frog legs and more.
If you’re really feeling it, you can get the Passtime Platter.
Not into the seafood? Choose from homemade soups and sandwiches like a burger, grilled cheese, BLT or the “J-town Ribeye” (fried bologna).
I was there for the fish, obviously, so I started off my meal with an order of catfish fingers from the appetizer menu.
It seemed like only two or three minutes passed before a basket of seven sizzling fish strips were placed before me, followed quickly by bottles of ketchup, Louisiana Hot Sauce and house-made tartar sauce. Now we’re talking.
The catfish had been cut into medium-sized strips, heartily coated in cornmeal batter and fried crispy. They were served with a bag of plain Lay’s potato chips, which I had no interest in. But I did have an interest in trying the tartar sauce.
When done well, tartar goes exceptionally well with fried fish, and this bright, savory tartar was done quite well. I often forgo the stuff when eating fish, but not this time. I was all-in, with the salty batter, clean-tasting fish and creamy-meets-crunchy sauce.
I could have eaten 20 of those strips — except that I had also ordered the house fish sandwich with fries for my main meal, which showed up before I had finished the appetizer. Calling the piece of cod on that sandwich “large” would be like calling the Ohio River “wet.”
I finished my catfish (no meat left behind) and prepared myself.
For starters, the fries were nothing special but were cooked precisely and made for a fine companion. Even the pickle spear that came with the meal was crunchy, mild and tasty. But the fish, which was battered in a light, peppery batter, was far and away the star of the show.
The seasoning in the batter was familiar somehow, yet different than what I typically expect from fried fish — I couldn’t quite place what I was tasting, but it was quite good. The fish had the fresh, clean flavor you expect from cod.
One of the best aspects of getting a fish sandwich like this is all the extra fish. Mine came with wheat bread, and I could have easily made two sandwiches if I’d had two more pieces of bread.
I used a fork to gobble up the first third or so of the fish, before adding the bright tartar sauce and treating it like the two-handed sandwich it was.
When you get to this point, be prepared to get your hands greasy, because this is like any fried fish — it takes over the bread in fairly short order. What that means is that thick chunks from the flaky meat, which was probably three-quarters of an inch thick at its thickest point, dropped here and there, providing more extra-curricular morsels to enjoy.
I plucked them up eagerly with my fingers because, hey, my hands were messy anyway.
I finished the sandwich and left only a few of the fries and about half the pickle, and the friendly bartender said, “You did good work there, my man.”
The point being, you won’t need an appetizer if you order this fish sandwich.
I don’t bestow superlatives, so I will neither deny nor confirm whether I believe Passtime’s version to be the best fish sandwich in Louisville.
I will say it is easily a focal point of the conversation. I may need to hit a few church picnics this spring to do more research.
Further, what I learned from my visit to Passtime is that the clientele and staff are as friendly as the fish is delicious. In addition, owner Tommy Pass checked on me personally to make sure I enjoyed my meal.
By 6 p.m. on this particular weekday, the place was packed with chatter and laughter. The only setback in my visit was that, with my bartender having apparently clocked out, the replacement bartender was so busy that he couldn’t find time to bring my bill.
Since I was in a hurry to get to another stop, I left my money with tip (it’s cash only) with the nice woman sitting next to me. I have no doubt my bill got paid.
Passtime Fish House, located at 10801 Locust Road, is open Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, noon-9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-8 p.m.