food critic’s corner: Lutfi’s Fried Fish should throw this one back

Bradley Hoffman

The mostly basketball-orange walls, with a gray and brown stripe running along the bottom, are adorned with framed photos of notable musicians and still lifes, such as one of a couple smiling widely, looking very happy and satisfied. It is my guess that this couple did not just finish a lunch at Lutfi’s Fried Fish.

On the outset, this place is a dive eater’s dream. The vinyl booths share the same eye-popping color scheme as the walls,. There’s a large TV in the corner anchored over a Street Fight II pinball machine that occasionally growls and flashes, interrupting Sports Center. A booth in the front has the abandoned pieces of a checkers game on it and the windows are decorated with burglar bars. To boot, Lutfi’s also shares its building with a liquor store. Locations nearest campus are at 3037 Main Street atnd 3360 Troost Ave.

I ordered the Comeback fish sandwich with all the toppings, a favorite of mine I’ve enjoyed several times before. It was brought to my table inside a stryofoam container, which was inside a plastic bag that read in big letters, THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE. When I unveiled my meal I’m disappointed to see that the ciabatta bun my last Comeback was made on is absent. It’s replaced with two slices of cheap, cold wheat bread. The price, however, remains unchanged at $6.25.

The bread won’t do. My attempts to pick it up are like a weak juggling act, and the sandwich’s integrity begins to falter. After two bites, the toppings fall out and I see what I was eating.

The lettuce looks less than a lunch shift away from expiration. These slices of onion have been refrigerated too long after being chopped and have lost their flavor. Now, they’re only cold, crunchless slivers.

The disappointing trimmings are made more unfortunate because the heart of the sandwich, the namesake of Lutfi’s Fried Fish, is actually really good. The breading is thin and consistent. It’s seasoned perfectly, not overwhelming or boring, but in that sweet spot between.

The fries, however, do not surprise me. They are the same generic, pre-cut, bagged fries, punched up with a salt-based seasoning I’ve had at Lutfi’s many times before. While they aren’t unique, they’re good. Add enough ketchup and they’re worth the money.

But, it’s not about the fries, it’s about the entrée. Lutfi’s, what have you done to my beloved Comeback sandwich? I remember it being another way: ciabatta bun, onions so fresh they can still make you cry, and lettuce that was still wet from the market. Find it, Lutfi’s. Find the reason I told all my friends about you, the reason I make an extra bus trip just to come to you. Find it and bring it back.

I’ve never ordered anything at Lutfi’s Fried Fish except the Comeback sandwich and while it was disappointing this time, I can attest to their fish at least. If you find yourself on the Troost Max bus line, stomach growling, and decide to stop in at Lutfi’s, order yourself a half pound of catfish, whiting, or tilapia and a side of fried okra. Avoid the Comeback sandwich until its better version comes back.

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