The battered, fried fish, typically served with French fries, coleslaw, lemon wedges and tartar sauce, connects Syracuse to its rich Italian heritage.
At the turn of the 19th century, the city housed a hefty population of Roman Catholic Italian immigrants who observed Lent and abstained from eating most meat on Fridays. Now, over a century since the first Italian immigrants moved to the city, residents of Italian descent make up nearly 15 percent of Syracuse’s population.
A host of upstate New York restaurants dole out their fried fish every Friday, even outside of Lent. Aside from commercial restaurants, you can find family-style, fish-fry gatherings hosted at churches and firehouses in surrounding towns.
Tom Farmer, the owner of Fins & Tails Seafood store, has logged 35-plus years selling fish. He says “fish fry” carries a different connotation depending on location. In the South, catfish hits the fryers. But in upstate New York, fishmongers deal nearly exclusively with cod and haddock.
“Syracuse has made haddock its official fish for fish fries,” Farmer says, “and the biggest haddock market in the U.S. is from here to Utica.”
Doug’s Fish Fry (in Skaneateles and Cortland), aptly named after its menu star, opened its doors in 1982. Doug founded the picnic-style joint when he struggled to find a nice hunk of fried fish on Fridays outside of Lent. He saw an opportune niche market, and opened up his Skaneateles location, then one in Cortland. Area restaurants followed suit and established fish-fry specials for lent-less Fridays, and eventually served the crunchy, flaky meal during the remaining days of the week.
Even though haddock reigns as the Syracuse staple, Doug’s sticks to cod. But if you ask the locals, a dip in beer batter followed by a quick swim in the fryer fits the Friday (or not) bill, no matter what the fish.
Photo by 5chw4r7z.
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