Update, 2:12 p.m. June 1
Wholey’s Fish Market in the Strip District made it clear when it comes to catfish: “If you’re a Nashville fan, don’t ask.”
They threatened to check IDs.
But what would happen if I tried? Could I buy an instrument of crime (that isn’t an instrument of crime anymore)?
I moved to Pittsburgh from Knoxville, Tenn., in August to work at The Incline and luckily, for this experiment anyway, I still happen to have my old Tennessee ID (with “void” now stamped in the corner). With my finger over the stamp, it just might — and did — work.
Disclaimer: I’m not a Preds fan and didn’t pay attention to them when I lived in Knoxville, which is about three hours from Nashville.
I got to Wholey’s on Wednesday afternoon, and the signs were everywhere — outside, on the first display inside the door and in the back with a 40-lb soon-to-be-named catfish (more on him later).
After walking up and down the aisles, I went up to the counter. There were choices — catfish fillet or whole catfish — but no warning signs for Nashville fans like in the other spots. I figured it was my best bet. And if I was a Preds fan, I’d want a whole one right?
“One catfish, please.”
“Do you want it cleaned?”
OK, not a question I was expecting. If I got away with this, I thought I’d want it clean, right? I mean, I’ll have to cook it or something, right? So I went with yes. After my fish, still sporting its head and tail, was cleaned and bagged, I made my way though Wholey’s winding aisles to the cashier and got in line.
“Did they ask you for ID?” my cashier, Jenn Gehry, asked. “Can I trust you?”
I pulled out my Tennessee ID, making sure my finger was over the “void” punched into it. She paused and called over her co-workers. As they deliberated my catfish fate, I asked “Am I the first person to try to buy one?”
Gehry told me there had been a couple, but I was the only one who made it that far, everyone else was stopped at the counter. After some deliberation the ruling: Sorry, but no.
At that point I confessed my plan, showing my new and valid Pennsylvania ID.
That’s when I met Scott Thomas, the general manager. No, I wasn’t in trouble. Thomas and Gehry were great about it and even gave me a few minutes to chat.
Thomas said about seven or eight people have tried to buy a catfish and were turned down. But there was no drama to it.
“They’ve been good sports,” he said, adding that the store even staged a skit with a Pittsburgher dressed in a Preds jersey who tried to by a catfish and was escorted out by security as shoppers laughed.
And there are two big reasons for the no-sale to Tennesseans, Thomas told me.
First, the store did the same with octopus when the Pens played the Detroit Red Wings. And second, they refused to sell tickets for games in Nashville to Pittsburgh fans, so the store can refuse to sell them a fish.
Fair is fair.
Thomas said fans have come in just to see the signs and the 40-lb catfish in the back who he had “specially caught” — aka some friends caught him in the Allegheny River and will return him after the Stanley Cup final.
After my chat with Thomas, I went back to buy the fish because, well, at this point I was attached.
Gehry said she was still surprised I wasn’t carded at the counter. “They are some pretty big Pens fans,” she said.
Since I’m NOT throwing the fish on the ice, I asked Thomas for his advice: Best way to cook a catfish?
Pan fry with a little olive oil, he said.
June 1 update, from Incline reporter/curator Sarah Anne Hughes:
I asked my boyfriend, Matt, to come pick up a catfish from our co-working space Wednesday. Upon taking it out of the bag, he accurately exclaimed, “This is a whole catfish!” He had the unpleasant task of using the sharpest knife in our kitchen to filet the fish. Matt, who has never cooked catfish, improvised by breading the filets in cornbread mix combined with Old Bay seasoning then frying the pieces. It was salty and delicious.