On a freakin’ cold Wednesday night I grabbed my friend Patty and we headed to the Fish Cove, arriving about 30 minutes before closing time. We walked into this takeout-only fish joint and received a big hello from Tyler Smith, manager of the North Syracuse location. Now, don’t think that this was just because he was expecting us; everyone who came in while we were there was just as enthusiastically greeted. I just really like it when restaurant staff makes you feel incredibly welcome.
Smith had received his marching orders for our visit from Joe Fedele, owner of two locations, in North Syracuse at 456 S. Main St. (458-5251) and in Bayberry Plaza, 7608 Oswego Road, Liverpool (652-1454). (The other Fish Cove restaurants in the area are under different ownership.) Smith commenced to cook a selection of just about everything they had to offer and Patty and I stood there and dug in, because there is no seating. But we were not alone. Regular customers came in up to the last minute, even while Smith and his helper were cleaning up, and with only minutes to spare they were just as warmly welcomed and served as we were.
Start your meal with the New England clam chowder. This was just as it is supposed to be: creamy, not like glue, not salty, and warming to the body and soul. Did I mention it was freakin’ cold out?
Just about everything is hand-breaded and fried in peanut oil. We tried the haddock, bay scallops, shrimp, clam strips, calamari, zucchini, mushrooms, mozzarella sticks, french fries, onion rings and popcorn chicken. Even the fries were good: crunchy on the outside and tender within.
“What was your favorite?” Smith asked. Got to say the haddock. The freshness of the fish just shined through. It was sweet, it was flaky, it was wonderful. The breading on all of the items never interfered with their taste, so we enjoyed shrimp, clams, etc., not breading. We did not get a chance to try the fried smelt; as a kid that is what I asked for when my birthday dinner rolled around. This turned into a funny story when I later dated a guy who made a face and told me I was eating bait. Well, he didn’t last, and I will have to go back on a warmer day and get some of those sweet little morsels.
Now, being a dipper of all things dippable, I was happy to see the Fish Cove’s plethora of dips to choose from. There was the classic cocktail, a very chunky tartar, ranch, barbecue, cheese and, our favorite, Bang Bang. This is a mixture of mayonnaise, sweet Thai chili sauce and hot sauce, and I highly recommend it, especially for the vegetables. On the side, we had the traditional offerings like cole slaw, macaroni salad, potato salad and beans with a healthy dose of brown sugar, all homemade.
So Patty and I are sucking the food down like vacuum cleaners and I hear, “Hey, Mr. Chip, what can I get you?” Well, he wants the usual, which is a piece of baked for the wife and a sandwich with mustard. This is all a reference to haddock, if that were not clear. Mr. Chip stops by at least once a week, and with a smile he told me, “Sometimes twice.” Smith responded, “Ooooh, sorry, we are sold out of the baked, what can I cook up for ya?”
So Mr. Chip left with broiled haddock with a spinach topping. Which brings me to my next point—of all the folks that came in while I was there, two-thirds of them got broiled haddock. Fried fish is not the only way to enjoy this Lenten standby. Smith had trays of haddock ready to go with a variety of toppings, such as a tomato bruschetta topped with mozzarella.
Mike Howe gave that a go, telling us he comes in every other week. “What brings you back?” I asked. Howe told us this was the greatest fish around compared to anybody else. “And the tartar sauce doesn’t have anything weird in it,” he said. Which I can agree is very important.
Another woman had preordered and took home broiled haddock with a simple garlic topping. Raw seafood is also for sale, including haddock, scallops, squid and specials as they come in.
With the Lenten season upon us, come Friday, Fish Cove North Syracuse will move around equipment, add fryers and more staff, and serve more than 500 people in a day, deliciously. The Bayberry location is getting just as busy.
And speaking of Lent, in the spirit of true confessions I often experience gastric upset with fried foods that are too greasy. Fish Cove passed my stomach test and the rest of the trip home went without incident or discomfort, with no one happier about that than Patty.
And when you order, be prepared to pay with cash only.
Both Fish Coves are open Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (winter hours), 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (summer hours)