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Foot Long Fish

July 27, 2009

Almost every town has its local specialties.  When I first moved to Albany I knew that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to find the things I loved on the West Coast.  But in my heart of hearts I knew there would be delicious things unique to the area.

I had a few strategies.  The Best of Metroland section proved completely useless.  But I did tap into Yelp, and there were a few Albany pioneers who were particularly invaluable – Megan W., Ryan H., Cynthia C., Lai-Yee Y., Jess X. and Ian W.

Plus I had another strategy as well.  Look for full parking lots at old dilapidated restaurants that had stood the test of time.  This was how I found Ralph’s.  And Ralph’s was unique for me.  There was nothing quite like it in the Bay Area.  It is a great example of the Italian-American taverns that seem to be a fixture in the northeast.

But still, it is not unique to the area.

It did not take long before I noticed the fantastic neon sign on Central Avenue, one of Albany’s main arterials.  In some ways it was reminiscent of the In-N-Out burger sign with the giant arrow of joy pointing you in the direction of good eats.  But this sign read, Bob & Ron’s Fish Fry.
My first thought was who the hell are Bob and Ron.  My second thought was where did they get that marvelous sign.  Which brought me to my third thought.  Maybe they stole it from some restaurant in a quaint seaside town.

Fish in Albany?*  But it was old, and it had a full parking lot.  Plus there is no way a place with a sign like that could survive if the food wasn’t solid.

Here is the deal.  And it’s a bit convoluted, so try and stay with me.  Fish Fry turns out not to be the same thing as fried fish.  Yes, Fish Fry is fried.  Yes, Fish Fry is fish.  But Fish Fry has a very specific form that sets it apart.

It is a long narrow piece of fish, about a foot long.  Bob & Ron have traditionally used cusk but are finding it difficult to source on a regular basis and sometimes substitute cod.   It is breaded and fried.  And then it is served on a white hotdog bun with the fish extending well beyond the boundaries of the bread.

There are three choices of sauce.  Tartar, cocktail and chili sauce, which as far as I can tell is ketchup mixed with relish.  Some places will let you add your own sauces, but at Ted’s you tell them what you want on your Fish Fry.

You may have had fried fish before, but if you haven’t been within a stone’s throw of Albany it is unlikely you have ever experienced Fish Fry.

And here, it is everywhere.  There are the standalone Fish Fry restaurants.  There are seasonal Fish Fry restaurants.  You can get Fish Fry at the seasonal soft-serve ice-cream shacks.  You can get Fish Fry at family restaurants.  Ralph’s sometimes makes it as a special.  You can even get Fish Fry at the bowling alley.

I have learned to stick to those places that specialize in the dish.

People who have grown up with this treat their whole lives swear by pairing the meal with a chocolate shake.  It sounds disgusting.  But I tried it once, and it was totally disgusting.  Probably one of those things you have to be trained to like from birth – like Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray.

For me, it has become important to have good fried clams with my Fish Fry.  Other people have other qualifiers: the French fries or the cole slaw.

But the form is truly a brilliant innovation.  The skinniness of the fish allows it to cook super fast.  It maximizes the amount of tasty crunchy fried bits.  And allows it to nestle in the fold of a hotdog bun.  Putting it in the bun does double duty of absorbing any excess grease and preventing the fried crust from steaming on a plate.

If you can believe it, I met people who had moved to Albany over eight years ago, and they have yet to try Fish Fry.  It’s like moving to Miami and not eating at a Cuban cafeteria.  Or living in Philadelphia and not having an Italian pork sandwich.  Or not trying a hotdog in Chicago.

Speaking of hotdogs, we have our very own version of them here.  Tune in next week to learn more.

*Possibly depressing historical footnote:  The primary Albany food specialty from back in the day was called “Albany Beef” and it was sturgeon fished out of the Hudson River when it was still a viable fishery.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Jerry permalink
    July 27, 2009 4:31 pm

    I’ve never been to Bob and Ron’s because I am rarely in Albany and if I am, I’m likely to head to New World, or Provence, places like that. However, I’ve ordered the famous “fish fry” in many places in the Greater Saratoga area and they were all absolute crap.

    • July 27, 2009 11:09 pm

      Jerry: I probably should have mentioned this explicitly in the post. Yes, you can find Fish Fry on the menus at restaurants throughout the region. No, you should not order it, unless you happen to be in a place that specializes in its preparation.

      There is plenty of crap NY style pizza in Manhattan, and plenty of lousy deep dish pizza in Chicago. You need to know where to go, and try a decent place before you write it off. Unless that is you are put off by the form. While it may not be culinary Nirvana, let me assure you that good Fish Fry is certainly not crap.

  2. July 27, 2009 6:47 pm

    Chocolate :X

    Oddly enough, I’ve never actually gotten a fish sandwich… the other options just sound so much better. Maybe I’ll have to get around to it…

  3. Tonia permalink
    July 27, 2009 8:54 pm

    Bob & Ron’s……… *sigh* CLASSIC. This is the only place where I ever order good ole red dyed Hawaiin Punch. LOL. I’ve been going here since I was a kid.

    And I love Ralph’s pizza… it is very homemade tasting and cheap.

  4. Jennifer permalink
    July 28, 2009 10:25 am

    Well I’ve lived upstate for 6 years now and I’ve yet to try it. Most likely because I hate fish.

  5. Patrick permalink
    July 28, 2009 12:29 pm

    Bob & Ron’s is the best fish fry in the area by far. The recent switch to cod is a little disappointing but better than overfishing cusk into extinction. Their cole slaw is the perfect match to a fish fry or clam roll and I love the crinkle-cut fries. I’ll have the occasional milkshake with my meal but prefer a vanilla shake over chocolate.

    Ralph’s is another family favorite but lately no one’s had the patience to deal with the long waits for a table at dinner time. Their veal and peppers can’t be beat.

  6. July 28, 2009 2:31 pm

    I love Ralph’s fried mozzarella with the raspberry sauce. I think they might have recently changed their method/product/recipe though, ’cause they weren’t as good as back in the day last time I got them. Also, they are calling the raspberry sauce “coulis” which is a bit twee.

    I like Bob and Ron’s, the only thing I will get there is the fish sandwich you speak of. My mother was also a fan. It’s funny too, I don’t ever really get a craving for the fish fry, but about once a year I decide that it is time to go over and get one. As if it is obligatory for some reason. Some kind of internal fish fry biological clock perhaps.

  7. July 29, 2009 12:06 pm

    Holy Cow! I haven’t been to Ralph’s in 15 years, i loved their stuffed potatoe skins.

    Metroland named Bob & Ron’s Fish Fry the best fried fish place in the capital district

  8. Thomas H White permalink
    August 5, 2009 1:11 pm

    I can’t stand Bob and Ron’s Fish Fry’s. Maybe it’s because I’m a long ago transplant to the Albany area. I grew up in Western NY and although you wouldn’t think of it, Haddock fry’s were common on Friday nights. My first real job was in a seafood restaurant where we got slammed every Friday. I loved the taste of a good haddock fry and just assumed that they were available everywhere. Well, I moved to Albany for school and went into Haddock Fry withdrawal. I’ve tried Ted’s and B&R, but didn’t like their fish.

    Over the years I’ve found some good places, but they keep going out of business for various reasons. There was this farm stand by the Mohawk Paper plant in Cohoes where a couple of little old ladies made fried haddock to order on Friday. There was Captain Lee’s in Latham, but they’ve gone out of business. Occassionally the Roma meat market (good meats including Kobe) which went into the old Captain Lee’s location has had fried haddock brought in from Harbor House in Clifton Park. This is the good old big fat hunks of haddock fried to perfection, but is offered cold and you need to reheat it. Gene’s on Rt 4 in East Greenbush is a seasonal fish fry stand that offers very good fish fry’s of the type you’ve described. Across from Gene’s is Off Shore Pier. I go into the fish store side of the building rather than the restaurant. I order a large hunk of fried Haddock to go and it never makes it home. Also, during the summer and good weather there is Michelle’s food truck at the park by the Capital building. Her place is known for their fish fry as you’ve described them. It’s haddock and when you get it with their homemade french fries you are in heaven.

    tom

  9. September 1, 2009 1:09 pm

    I spent the first 43 yrs of my life in Lansingburgh. Teds and Hot Dog Charlies are institutions and childhood memories which I will never forget. I now live in a town the size of Troy. OFallon Mo is 35 miles west of St Louis. Out here fish is a non entity unless you consider cat fish a food. Hot Dogs are those processed skinless things you get with no taste and no charecter. I would love the recipe for both Charlies, Gus’s or Jacks sauce and for Teds chilli sauce. I find Haddock impossible to get here to make a fish fry out of… Speaking of Fish.. how many remember Jeans Beans in the Burgh. Now that was some good fried fish.

    • willis permalink
      March 18, 2011 4:13 pm

      I grew up on the very street.112th st. and 6th ave. We used there pallets as kids to build tree stands and smelled like fish for days.
      I’d love to find an old picture of the place. Across the street was Charlie the tailor and behind him on 5th ave was the Bijou (Oxford) movie theater which I have two pictures of, taken 30 plus years apart from the same corner which I believe was Ferp’s soda fountain. The Hot Dog Charlie rest. that was on 2nd ave. and 117th burned a couple of years ago (supposedly to be rebuilt) with this being the season of Lent – Ted’s is thriving(watervliet, and 2 in troy)Jack’s hamburger stand officially opened for the season this week as well as the Snowman Ice Cream. Hope you found some interest in this article.

  10. March 19, 2011 11:25 pm

    I feel as if I showed up late for the fair! Where have I been all your life? Great blog!

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