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Emily L Discovers Albany’s Foot Long Fish

September 20, 2019

Did I mention there was a backlog? This is something that can happen when a daily blog converts into posting just two times a week after a longer than expected hiatus.

Hopefully you remember Emily L. She’s been writing guest posts on the blog for several months, and today’s submission she sent in all the way back in July 17, after my final tour through downtown Albany.

One of the reasons it took so long to share is that there was a factual error in the post. Emily and I talked about it in person, but let’s see if you can find it. I’ll let you know at the very end.

The Albany Fish Fry
by Emily L

Inspired by a conversation during Daniel’s Tour de Albany on Sunday night, I am dedicating this post to my confusion of what is known is the ‘Fish Fry’ in the Capital Region.

When I first moved to the area, I started to see signs and advertisements for Fish Frys in the summer. This greatly confused me. In the midwest, Fish Frys are associated with Catholic churches on Fridays during Lent. These church fundraisers offer fried fish (usually frozen), french fries, and coleslaw to patrons for about $10 during Fridays leading up to Easter. Each diocese tends to be known for their take on this dish (one church is well known for their homemade tarter sauce while another is known for having big, flaky pieces of fish) and many patrons Fish Fry hop, trying a different one each Friday.

So enter my confusion when I saw ice cream stands offering Fish Frys during a non-Lent time. The boyfriend laughed and explained to me what a Capital Region Fish Fry is. It is essential a long piece of fish, fried and served on a hot dog roll with ‘chili sauce’. As Daniel explained to me on Sunday, this piece of long fish was a haddock fillet since it was easily attainable in the area and the large Italian immigrant population was already familiar with this fish. Even today, the fish is always served in this long form, even when it is not haddock.

Fish Fry Cropped

But here is where I take offense. This ‘chili sauce’ is not the delicious red, spicy, and sweet Thai version I have come to know and love. Instead, the Capital Region’s ‘chili sauce’ is essentially ketchup, sometimes mayo, and chili powder. I simply cannot understand it. I have tried several different versions of the sauce, but find myself befuddled. But Daniel has convinced me to give it another go. While he did the original version of the Tour de Fish Fry in 2011, some new establishments have popped up. Even Innovo Kitchen offered an upscale version of this beloved area treat last summer. So he has convinced me to try it all again, primarily Gene’s for their twist on three fish fry sauces.

Jem B. is organizing the tour de fish fry 2019; this tour will even include Gene’s, the original Ted’s, and even a stop to try a Chinese fish fry to compare to the Capital Region.

So what other locations should be on this tour? What are we overlooking?

To be fair, there was a lot of drinking on the Tour de Downtown Albany. It’s very possible I spun Emily a story about haddock. But the real answer is cusk. Well, “real” might be a step too far. But I did hear anecdotally from a Capital Region old timer that the original Albany Fish Fry sandwiches were made from cusk, and it was the shape of those filets that produced the signature long and narrow Fish Fry we’ve come to know and love.

With Bob & Ron’s gone for good, I couldn’t tell you of another Fish Fry stand making sandwiches out of cusk anymore. But regardless of the type of fish, in the 518 we still cut the filets long and thin to replicate the regional original.

Or at least that’s how the story was told to me. I’m not sure about how the piece about Italian immigrants fits in, but that’s neither here nor there. We have more important fish to fry.

As far as the chili sauce goes, I don’t get that either. To my palate, it always tastes like ketchup mixed with relish. Maybe there’s some variation among different establishments. But Ted’s is the spot where chili sauce is the default, and I find that to be absolutely perplexing. But Emily is right that I did find Gene’s in East Greenbush to be delightfully different.

The big question on the table is whether or not Jem B. is still up for organizing a 2019 Tour de Fish Fry. We may have missed the window on that one. School has started up again and Gene’s is a seasonal business. With the current temperatures in the Capital Region, they may have already closed up shop for the year. Hopefully Jem can be convinced to take this on in 2020.

Man, I love the idea of mixing in a Chinese fish fry spot for the sake of comparison too. I know that spring seems like a million years away at this point in the season. But perhaps a Tour de Fish Fry could be the light at the end of the tunnel.

Stay warm. Stay hungry. And there will be more Fussy next week. Cheers!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    September 20, 2019 10:33 am

    The “chili sauce” varies as much from place to place as “meat sauce” varies from little hot dog joint to little hot dog joint. Some places (like my beloved Ale House) serve actual chili with their fish fry, not some some funky ketchup based goo (of which I understand the reprehension).

    The question is moot for me anyhow, since I’m firmly a tartar sauce guy.

  2. Rochelle permalink
    September 20, 2019 1:17 pm

    A chinese fish fry spot? I know take out places sell fried fish, but I never order it.

  3. Benjamin M. permalink
    September 20, 2019 1:21 pm

    I grew up in Rochester, NY, where “fish frys” meant large pieces of fish. If you look on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_fry), Rochester is even listed. This whole thing about hot dog rolls and such is crazy. I am definitely up for a tour of places, but fully realize it will never be a “real” fish fry tour.

    LONG LIVE BEER BATTER COATED FISH FRYS!

  4. RogerK permalink
    September 20, 2019 4:25 pm

    I did a little research a few years ago into the upstate NY fish fry concept and found that it started at about the same time in the Syracuse/Skaneateles area as it did in the Capital District. I seem to recall it was back in the mid to late 1940s.

    Locally, among the earliest purveyors were Gallagher’s, O’Mally’s (sp), and Ted’s. O’mally’s was in Latham at the corner of Rt. 9 and Watervliet Shaker Rd. – where Bella-Napoli is currently located. I had my first fish fry there probably in the early 50s. Ted’s was at it’s current location in Watervliet/Port Schuyler but was only a drive-up stand and you ate in your car or at a picnic table.

    Below is a 2010 submission to the Table Hopping blog from Bill Gallagher, who’s father started Gallagher’s Fish Fry. It gives some insight into how all the fish fry joints operated in those early days. Bill also reveals a secret recipe.

    Bill Gallagher says:
    September 30, 2010 at 12:50 am
    In response to the comment by RogerK — June 23rd, 2009 @ 1:44 pm:

    My father George Gallagher owned and operated Gallagher’s Fish Fry in Watervliet, N.Y. It was located on the arsenal side of the street. You could see the Hudson River from building. He did not own the building; he rented it. It was a seasonal business. He would close the place up in the fall and re-open it on Ash Wednesday. Up until 1956 he would travel south to Miami, Florida to soak up the warmth. After that he moved the entire family up Easton, N.Y. where he his mother Marion owned a large colonial farm house that sat on 10 acres of land. I was 8 years old when we moved up there. Miami was much nicer as a kid. In 1970 my father had to give up the old building so he built a new A-frame across the street and then 787 was built and that was just about the end of Gallagher’s Fish Fry as everyone knew it. My brother George Gallagher III took over the business as my father gradually faded out of the picture. Father and Son sold the business in the late 1990’s and that was the end of and era (along with Hot Dog Charlies’ in Troy) My dad passed away on January, 11, 2003 while visiting his daughter in Bakersfield, California and my brother Spark passed away on December 8, 2007.
    I will give a hint to the best fish fry ever… Use cracker meal, not bread crumbs and the batter is one can of evaporated milk mixed with one whole raw egg; whisk in about three cups of water and and fry it at about 375 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes in Peanut oil. Catfish or Talapia make good fish choices.
    Hope this has been helpful for all…

    Bill Gallagher
    Florida

    Here’s some more tidbits from a member of the family that started Ted’s Fish Fry…

    “Teds always used Haddock, then Pollock & now Cod. Bob & Ron’s used cusk, never Teds. Haddock got depleted & became a fortune, hence switching to Pollock, blue fish. Cod, white fish, much better. Fish came in fillets, folded in large LONG Pans, much easier & less waste in cutting long. Too much waste cutting round. Any waste or pieces now are being used for “fish & chips.””

    OK Jem! There’s a base to build upon for a tour. Sounds like a great idea to me!

    • albanylandlord permalink
      September 21, 2019 11:52 pm

      Thanks Roger!

      And good to see you tonight Emily!

  5. September 21, 2019 1:20 pm

    I guessed cusk (not mentioning) was the factual error…. what do I win? But Roger’s post suggests that was not a universal thing.

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  1. What’s Up in the Neighborhood, September 21, 2019 – Chuck The Writer

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