On a recent balmy night in a hotter-than-the-depths-of-hell basement kitchen, we met with the JM Curley team to make their take on a Fried Catfish Sandwich – which, like the rest of the menu, was anything but ordinary. With rap music blasting, the kitchen trio wasn’t letting the unbearably uncomfortable heat phase them as they heartily and playfully joked with each other while working to feed a boisterous and crowded dining room upstairs that had gathered for Trivia night.
Executive Chef Sam Monsour, with his artfully tattooed arms and sporting a flat-brimmed PBR baseball hat, took a brief break from the fun to show us how to make a dish off of their “Sammy’s Sevens” Menu, a playful chalkboard that displays that evenings specials. While there are some fluctuating dishes that appear, there’s always a take on the classics like a PB&J, burgers, popcorn and cookies. Not to be missed is the “Square Meal”, perfect for those craving “meat and potatoes” type fare. We got to work on the Fried Catfish Sandwich, which starts out simply with a classic buttery biscuit before the fun really gets going – a thick slab of homemade corn butter is added to the biscuit just before it gets toasty in the oven. While that heats up, Sous Chef Dan Crothers shows us the buttermilk mixture that the catfish has been lounging in before it hits a spiced-up coating and gets dunked in the frialator. He also shows us the sandwiches shaved trilogy condiment; a classic mixture of celery, onions and pepper (in this case, jalapeno), that is then mixed simply with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. Rounding out the sandwich, an ultra smoky and extra thick tomato mayo is drizzled over the catfish adding richness, and the sandwich is then served alongside some Old Bay spiced French Fries.
The menu, like the kitchen staff themselves, is fun and playful at heart. Sous Chef Mark O’Leary (part of the Guchi’s Midnight Ramen crew) quietly works in the back prepping for the night ahead. They all work closely and focus on their tasks at hand with due diligence, but always with a great sense of pride and respect for one another. Sam is the leader, no question, but you can sense rather quickly how much of a bond these guys share, acting more like brothers than co-workers if anything else. Their food is consistently delicious, but never pretentious, and they always treat us like family too.
It’s not unusual to find one (or even a couple) of Doritos inspired sauces and other junk food-influenced fare on their menu. “Whether people want to admit or not, everyone loves junk food. That’s just part of American culture and here, we honor that”, Monsour says firmly and without the slightest hint of apology. Dieter’s delight it is not, JM Curley is quickly making a name for itself and the comforting, twisted up classics that they serve.