Going down our list of options for a Friday in Lent, the iconic Fat Ernie’s came up. This southside diner is classic Americana pure and simple. Fat Ernie’s longtime location is way down there at 2806 S. Hydraulic, where they are known for daily all you can eat specials and possibly the largest selection of pies in Wichita.
Fittingly, Fridays are all you can eat fried catfish, which makes it a popular destination during Lent. It had been several years since we had been to the diner, but it appears that little has changed there, except for the addition of a Bar and Grill next door. Since Fat Ernie’s does not serve alcohol you have the option of going into the separate bar and having your food delivered through a window that links the two establishments.
Ernie’s has plenty of seating inside the no frills dining area, where the daily specials are proudly listed on the wall. It was nice to see that they had not given into the large TV craze like so many other restaurants. The only set in sight was small, fuzzy and looked out of place perched atop of a fridge. The menu at Ernie’s is straightforward with just about every comfort food you can think of from meatloaf to salmon patties to chicken fried steak. They even have a food challenge in the “Belly Buster Burger”. Nothing like downing a full pound of meat with bacon and cheese as well. Both of us ordered the catfish meal which comes with “your choice of potato”. If you think that sounds rather ambiguous just go ahead and order any type of potato dish you can think of, chances are they will probably have it. We ordered mashed and fries for our “potato”. The meal also comes with homemade rolls, a salad, and a small plate of canned vegetables. On a side note Fat Ernie’s may be the only place in town that serves its salads in retro wooden bowls. They are very classy looking.
Although the sides were nothing spectacular, the catfish nuggets were pretty solid. The batter was light, crunchy and well seasoned. And the fish pieces were large enough that they were not dried and crispy after being fried. Served with a jug of homemade tartar sauce they were a guilty treat.
Fat Ernie’s is one of a few classic diners that still exist in Wichita and for that reason it should be given some respect. They may not serve the best food in town, but there is good comfort food to be found there. If large all you can eat dinners of fried catfish and chicken fried steak are not your cup of tea, you can at least stop by for some homemade pie.