Jimmy Collins is a showman on a very unconventional stage.
The owner of Jimmy’s Round Up Cafe & Fried Pies is omnipresent within his restaurant. Somehow he’s at both entrances all the time, moving across the dining room floor to talk to customers and dealing with any issues at the expo line. Were this a horror movie, the phone call from Jimmy would be coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE. The phone call would also have Collins’ signature country accent, which can be heard booming across the bustling restaurant as he greets newcomers with a wide smile and firm handshake. Like any great performer, he not only projects but knows his lines with practiced ease.
“I’m surprised they can keep any catfish in the lake as much as I sell them,” he says. “I usually charge $5 for this table, but you’re so nice I’ll give it to you for free.” These are, like the jokes my Uncle Andy tells, old favorites he has used time and again. Which isn’t to say Jimmy is insincere — he’s as genuine as can be. But when you work in a high-volume environment like a popular diner, you’re going to end up saying the same things to a lot of different people on a daily basis. Jimmy’s Round Up Cafe (& Fried Pies) is popular. Seated in the center of the room, the swirl of activity was hard to ignore. New customers seemed to arrive by the minute and the whirling dervish that is Jimmy Collins was right there to greet each of them.
All of the glad-handing would be for naught if it weren’t for the capable kitchen staff pumping out piles of delectable dishes. Collins credits his cooks and servers at every turn.
“They make it easy,” he said. Jimmy doesn’t cook. He doesn’t wait tables. He oversees the circus, but he lets the pros do what they do with minimal interference. The line cooks have been there a decade or more. Same with his baker. Everyone knows what to do and it shows.
First time guests will be greeted with a complimentary taste of Jimmy’s catfish and chicken strips. Can I make a confession? I did not have especially high hopes for the catfish. Not that I don’t like catfish (I quite enjoy it), but the idea of blow-you-away catfish not something I expect. I was wrong. Jimmy’s catfish is clean. The flavor isn’t muddy. The fish is firm, moist and delicate. The breading is a crisp cornmeal, seasoned to perfection and fried to an ideal golden brown. It’s fish that doesn’t taste fishy. It’s not oily. It’s got a bit of peppery bite. This is a catfish recipe honed to razor sharpness over years and years and years.
The tartar sauce is homemade and worth trying, but I wouldn’t blame you a bit if it never crossed your mind to dip a strip in it. A small portion is five strips for $9.99, including cucumber salad (think of the freshest, sweet pickles you can imagine), two sides and an enormous dinner roll. It is anything but small. A large portion is eight strips for $11.99. And if you come in on Fridays, that $11.99 will buy you all-you-can-eat catfish. I cannot go to Jimmy’s on a Friday. I can’t. I don’t know what would happen, but I can’t imagine it would be good for any involved. The chicken strip was a bit less flavorful, which makes sense, because it’s chicken. But it’s perfectly cooked, gorgeously juicy chicken in a really nice fried breading. The seasoning isn’t as aggressive as in the catfish.
Four strips and two sides will run you $9.49. You won’t need more, but you may want them anyway. Jimmy brought me a half order of the chicken-fried steak, but I thought it was a full order. The difference in price is $9.99 to $12.99. The difference in size is double. It’s a ridiculous amount of chicken-fried steak made even more ludicrous by the quality of the meat and the flavor of the breading. There’s a knife on the table. Don’t bother picking it up. The edge of your fork is all you’ll need to separate bite after bite of tender fried meat. One of your two sides must be mashed potatoes. They’re homemade. The texture gives it away almost as quickly as the buttery rich flavor.
I could eat a bowl of those mashed potatoes and waddle away happy. That’s how good they are. “Is everything fried, Greg?” “No, voice in my head. It isn’t.” An extremely happy gentleman at the table to my left was eating goulash like he was afraid I was about to take it away from him. And he wasn’t entirely wrong. He raved about the meatloaf, which was sold out that day, and said he’s usually a chicken-fried steak man, but the goulash called to him. “Do you live around here?” I asked. No. He’s from north Edmond, but he drives down to Jimmy’s regularly because the food is just that good. “You’re going to write about this place and give away the secret,” he said. “I’ll have to wait in line.”
Jimmy then brought me some beans that might be illegal. Tender pinto beans and big chunks of ham and bacon crowded into the bowl. Served with cornbread for $4.99, it might be the best deal around. For $7.99 you can get it all-you-can-eat style. The gypsy woman was right. This is how I’ll die. And if, somehow, you are still hungry, there are those & Fried Pies just waiting for you. Hostess never had a chance. These are buttery and flaky and full of real fruit. The apricot I had was a delight. Jimmy’s also makes sheet cakes, because of course they do. A slice is $3.99 and might be enough for a small birthday party. Not to mention being moist, rich and covered in homemade frosting. This is a glancing blow at the menu. I haven’t even had breakfast there, which looks ridiculous, and I was told by several people that the cinnamon rolls are so large and so delicious that in another era they would be worshipped as gods.