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Whitey's Fish Camp

2032 County Road 220, Orange Park, FL - (904) 269-4198
Posted By Michael Stern on 11/9/2009 4:23:00 PM
Whitey's was one of our first Roadfood finds when we started traveling around the country in search of regional eats. It gave us a taste of wild-caught catfish, which made the fish-loving half of the Stern team an instant fan. Subsequent encounters with farm-raised catfish revealed that the flavor punch of genuine, bottom-feeding river cats is something special. Pond-raised are fine – mild and polite, receptive to all kinds of character-building treatments such as blackening and Cajun-spicing. But farmed fish are no comparison to the wild ones at Whitey's, where the menu and the place have expanded dramatically and where catfish still reigns.

You name the seafood and Whitey's probably serves it – broiled, sautéed, fried, blackened or stuffed, filleted or on the bone, but it's catfish, served AUCE (local fish house shorthand for All U Can Eat), that star. Unless you specify what size you want, each plateful holds one or two big ones and two or three little ones. The tiniest are so fragile that experienced diners eat even the tender rib bones, leaving nothing but vertebrae. Big ones, with a skeleton that demands respect, provide supremely easy access to meat. Simply poke the tines of a fork through the sandy cornmeal girdle just below the backbone, then pull downward. A nice mouthful slips cleanly off the ribs. Atop the patch of brittle crust on your fork is a nugget of dense meat as luxurious as prime beefsteak but with freshwater sparkle that evokes vacation campfires and balmy summer nights. We have never eaten anything so indisputably outdoorsy in a normal cloth-napkin restaurant. (In lieu of napkins, Whitey's supplies each table with a roll of paper towels.)

Whitey's is a community as much as it is a restaurant: boat launches, bait and tackle shop, oyster bar and beer bar, campground and RV park complete with hair-styling salon. With its out-of-fashion video games for kids and two-dollar claw machine that grabs a lobster rather than a stuffed toy, it is not quaint and charming like some bucolic farm-town café or vintage deco diner. It is old-fashioned Florida, aka cracker culture, a reminder that Florida is (or was) the deepest of the deep south.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Whitey's Famous All-U-Can Eat Catfish
Hushpuppies
Catfish Sandwich
Pineapple Slaw
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

For under $20, Whitey's keeps delivering catfish to your table until you've had enough. These crusty, moist-meat lovelies are accompanied by cheese-rich au gratin potatoes and hushpuppies with just a hint of onion sweetness.
"For under $20, Whitey's keeps delivering catfish to your table until you've had enough. These crusty, moist-meat lovelies are accompanied by cheese-rich au gratin potatoes and hushpuppies with just a hint of onion sweetness."
Michael Stern





This half-eaten cat' suggests just how easy it is to hoist meat off the skeleton.
"This half-eaten cat' suggests just how easy it is to hoist meat off the skeleton."
Michael Stern


Listed on the menu as a soup, this red beans and rice turns canned beans into a fresh, cajun/gazpacho hybrid with chunks of smoked sausage.  Highly recommended.
"Listed on the menu as a soup, this red beans and rice turns canned beans into a fresh, cajun/gazpacho hybrid with chunks of smoked sausage. Highly recommended."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


Pineapple slaw is sweet and happy.
"Pineapple slaw is sweet and happy."
Michael Stern


Fish camp nappery and condiments: paper towels, ketchup, tartar sauce and cocktail sauce.
"Fish camp nappery and condiments: paper towels, ketchup, tartar sauce and cocktail sauce."
Michael Stern


The large automobile parking lot is supplemented by plenty of boat berths for customers who arrive by water.
"The large automobile parking lot is supplemented by plenty of boat berths for customers who arrive by water."
Michael Stern


Whitey's catfish are fried up whole and deliver super-fresh meat enrobed in a crunchy cornmeal crust.
"Whitey's catfish are fried up whole and deliver super-fresh meat enrobed in a crunchy cornmeal crust."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


The key lime pie strikes a nice balance between sweet and tart.
"The key lime pie strikes a nice balance between sweet and tart. "
Cliff Strutz


Whitey's supplies just about everything an angler needs to catch his own.
"Whitey's supplies just about everything an angler needs to catch his own."
Michael Stern


Fresh caught catfish indeed!
"Fresh caught catfish indeed!"
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


Here's where you want to sit if the weather cooperates.
"Here's where you want to sit if the weather cooperates."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


The indoor dining rooms are adorned with fisherman bric-a-brac, including these colorful fishing lures.
"The indoor dining rooms are adorned with fisherman bric-a-brac, including these colorful fishing lures."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


Whitey's is right on the water, of course - it's a fish camp.
"Whitey's is right on the water, of course - it's a fish camp."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


Whitey's is located by the side of Swimming Pen Creek, off Doctors Lake, which is off of the St. John's river.
"Whitey's is located by the side of Swimming Pen Creek, off Doctors Lake, which is off of the St. John's river."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle



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