I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let's Have Some Carp!

I had a craving for carp last night. Not just any carp. Joe Tess Place carp. I know it sounds gross. Nobody eats carp. But somehow, Joe Tess Place carp is different. It's fresh, not real fishy tasting and people drive to Omaha from miles around just to experience it.

The restaurant started as a neighborhood tavern in the 1930s. According to its website, "The main attraction became the Famous Fish Sandwich itself. Cut carp portions were fried in a skillet, placed in a cookie jar and sold for 15 cents. Ever since, the humble carp has been the driving force behind Joe Tess Place."


When I was young, my family used to eat there a lot. It was still a neighborhood tavern, so it wasn't very big. Best I can tell, the original bar is still intact. But they've added on to the building so it can seat 250 people now. Old photos decorate the walls, depicting old fishing adventures. I wrote about one of the photos a few years ago:

My mom and I were lead to a booth along the back wall of the restaurant—not a section we are normally seated in, and I was quickly drawn to a black and white photo positioned on the wall over our booth. It depicted three middle-age women, in rather plain looking dresses that hung to their ankles, fishing along a river—presumably the Missouri River. Each woman held a fishing pole in her hand. They were positioned about eight or ten feet apart and all of them had a rather serious look on her face.

Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t have a caption. All sorts of things ran through my mind. Were they fishing for leisure? If so, they hardly looked to be having fun, but maybe they were just the serious types who were locked in a competition of some kind. Were they fishing out of necessity? Were their husbands away at war or working in a nearby factory? Or were they single? Who knows?

As a writer, I feel like going to management to get the stories behind each of these photos. They would probably look at me like I'm crazy though. 

Beyond the photos, the place has other nuances. When you first walk in, you'll see fish swimming around in a large concrete tank. Every kid who has ever visited is tempted to dip his or her hand into the water, in spite of the sign that says not to. And the famous fish sandwiches aren't really sandwiches. They are pieces of fish, a little smaller than the size of your hand, that have been placed on a piece of rye bread. The area of town in which the restaurant is located used to have a large Polish population, so polka music fills the air from a jukebox in the corner. The place feels like 1965 and that's part of its charm.

My family still frequents the place and the fish is just as good as its ever been. Word must have spread because Guy Fieri from the Food Network recently did a segment about Joe Tess Place and I'm glad because it'll help preserve the restaurant's story. Check out the video segment, and if you ever get to Omaha, check out Joe Tess Place.


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