Hamilton Heights, Harlem, NYC — As I've gotten older, I find that I am becoming ever more a nostalgist — even, if not especially, with food. Last year, for my birthday, I treated myself to the gift of perfect fried chicken from Charles' Pan-Fried Chicken up in West Harlem.
And on the occasion of a milestone birthday most recently — my 50th — I sought the celebratory solace of the fried whiting sandwich served at Famous Fish Market in the same Hamilton Heights section of Harlem.
Evocative of the many fond childhood memories of fish fries and cookouts held in the backyards of relatives in the south and in local ghetto parks of the neighborhoods of New York City relatives back up north, the fried fish sandwich may be my favorite of all lifetime sandwiches. And the barely pronounced exterior of Famous Fish Market secrets the 40+-year old shop kitchen that makes my favorite version of it.
So for my 50th, I ordered the sandwich, served by default on soft wheat bread, and backed it up with an order of fried clam strips with fries, reminiscent of afternoons of my youth spent at the counters of various NYC Howard Johnson's and Woolworth's.
Clean, tasty, firm flaky fish, coated in a properly salted and peppery cornmeal batter, come fresh out of the deep fryer hot and aromatically crispy-crusted. The sandwich isn't complete with the compliments of tartar sauce and hot sauce. The clam strips are nicely crispy on the outside from a breaded coating, yet delicious with the slight chew that I've always been a fan of.
As Famous Fish Market is not a "sit-down" restaurant at all — and lucky was I to properly time my visit to the one break between the corner-turning lunch line of customers and the 4pm diners eager to get their dinner(s) early — it is a right miracle how well all the food holds up until I get it back home to devour, still delicious, still warm and crispy (only the fries suffer, slightly, from its own steaming while in transit), and to where these favorites become extra celebratory by the addition of my Pop Sauce, which adds a bit more yumminess to the sandwich, the clam strips, and even the fries.
I'm happy and ever grateful, but never surprised, that Famous Fish Market has stuck around long enough to be the best food present to help me ring in my 50th birthday, by reminding me of one of the dishes — sandwiches, at least — that informed my childhood food history.
Famous Fish Market | 684 St Nicholas Ave., New York, NY 10030 | (212) 491-8323