Dolphin Tale and All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fry at West Main Cafe

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WARNER BROTHERS
  • Warner Brothers
We usually forgo animal movies. Too often they turn into snuff films.

Go ahead. Try to remember the last animal movie you saw that didn't end with the poor creature's death.

We'll wait.

Dolphin Tale is inspired by the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail. She actually stars as herself. No snuff here. But there's plenty of fluff.

The story focuses briefly on the run-in with a crab trap that led to Winter's tail being amputated. But, really, the movie is about the fictional characters: Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), the eleven-year-old would-be emo kid who's portrayed as Winter's rescuer/reason for wanting to live. His friend Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) happens to work with the animals at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (Winter's real home) with her marine biologist father, Clay (Harry Connick Jr.).

Both children come from lonely, single-parent homes, and Sawyer's beloved cousin has recently deployed to one of the wars. When his cousin returns with a bum leg, Sawyer hangs around the VA hospital, which is filled with young soldiers with prosthetic limbs who do an inordinate amount of cheering. Gearhead Sawyer gets inspired and talks to the hospital's quirky prosthesis specialist, Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), about designing a new tail for Winter, who is at risk of possibly lethal spinal damage from her adapted way of swimming.

We know Dr. McCarthy is quirky because he eats nothing but chili burgers and insists on calling Winter a fish. Still he manages, with the help of eleven-year-olds with lots of freckles and astute commands of physics, to design a life-saving prosthetic tail. And they all lived happily ever after.

Winter's real story is interesting enough without adding clichés, like the dolphin responding only to the boy who happened to be present at her rescue. It's a disservice to the people who were a part of the real story. Never mind that every kid who sees Dolphin Tale is going to leave the theater thinking this is reality.

Even more problematic is the film's war subplot. It's a gross oversimplification and uses the veterans to manipulate viewers' emotions. Young soldiers who've lost limbs live joyfully in the VA hospital, bouncing on basketball courts with their new limbs, always smiling. A little technology is all it takes to overcome the horrors of the battlefield. Just like all it takes to fix Sawyer's cousin, obviously in the depths of post-traumatic stress disorder, is his little cousin's love. It's just that simple, right?

There's never been a fish story that was based in honesty. Which is a shame, because the reality of Winter's rescue and recovery and her positive effect on disabled children would have made a fine movie without all the faux melodrama. The best part of the film came during the credits, when real footage of Winter's rescue and rehabilitation was shown with an unfortunately schlocky soundtrack.

The desecration of Winter's story made us want to eat all the creatures at the aquarium. Since we're landlocked, we settled for an all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry.

Fish fries aren't just Lenten events in the heavily Catholic Metro East. Lots of restaurants and bars run fried fish specials throughout the year, but none of them is as thorough as Belleville's West Main Cafe (1601 West Main Street, Belleville, IL, 618-416-2337).

The restaurant doesn't look like anything fancy. It's housed in a ramshackle 1970s storefront that used to offer drive-thru tacos before sitting empty for several years. West Main Cafe opened in early 2010 and specializes in a wide spectrum of homemade classics. On Friday, that means all-you-can-eat fish -- and lots of it: catfish, tilapia, cod, bluegill, walleye and shrimp, for just $6.99. (That includes your choice of potato and a salad bar.)

Skip the bagged iceberg lettuce on the salad bar and go straight for the fresh, creamy cole slaw and eggy potato salad. It's a vast improvement over the scoops of factory-made salads that are too often the vegetable side at fish fries.

All soups on the salad bar are made from scratch, too, and it wouldn't be Friday without clam chowder. While West Main's tastes like it might have a chicken-stock base, it's still rich and creamy, not lacking in tender clams. It might not be the briny epitome of New England clam chowder, but it's tasty.

All you can eat catfish at West Main Cafe. - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • All you can eat catfish at West Main Cafe.
For the main course, we opted for catfish and walleye with baked potatoes. The first plate came out with three large boneless filets on each plate, still steaming from the fryer. Both were perfectly non-greasy and coated in a salty breading that added a little punch to the fish without overwhelming the flavor.

Like most catfish, West Main's suffered from the blandness that's become the standard for the species. Does anyone have catfish that tastes the way it used to, a little muddy and oily? This is light, white and tender with very little fish flavor. It's a pleasant flavor and properly cooked; West Main doing the best with what it has. It's not the restaurant's fault that all the flavor's been bred out of catfish.

The walleye made up for what the catfish lacked. The filets were thinner and the meat darker, with that murky hint of oil. Much richer and more flavorful than the catfish, it was just as well prepared, with the same breading as its blander cousin.

The kitchen cooks second helpings to order, and it's worth the wait -- which was short -- to have the fish that freshly prepared.

The only things lacking were beer and hush puppies. But just as Winter has survived without a vital part, so will this fish fry.

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