I work in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. It’s hood, but it used to be way worse hood – though it is by no means gentrifying – and in it’s-a-stereotype-because-it’s-kinda-true fashion, food options beyond burgers and pizza are limited. There are a few legit restaurants, but they’re too expensive to frequent (especially just for lunch!), and all the delis are pretty bare bones. I did recently learn that Diego’s Pizza on Jerome has a completely fucking ace salad bar, for which I give them big ups, but other than Diego’s there aren’t any other good options if you work on Burnside and want to eat not-shit for not-huge piles of money.
OR SO I THOUGHT.
This isn’t the post in which I reveal Morris Heights’ secret pretentious delis (unlike the neighborhood around the Bronx courthouse, which has an amazing secret pretentious deli). Morris Heights doesn’t have secret pretentious delis. What it has is Fish Market on Burnside, which, while still deep-fried, has the benefit of being completely fucking delicious, affordable, and fresh. Let me introduce you to it.
Fish Market – and yes, that’s the only thing the sign outside says by way of a designation – sells both raw fish for you to make at home and fried fish made to order. The fried fish menu is reasonably extensive for a storefront, but I always get the shrimp. Why? Because it’s the first thing I tried, it’s fantastic, and I don’t want to get something else and have it be less delicious. The shrimp are breaded in what I think is just bread crumbs and a little seasoning and deep fried to an incredible crunchiness. (I love crispy thing. You may recall.) The shrimp themselves are always perfect – tender, crunchy and never greasy. And you get a whole bunch for the price, usually 8 or 9! I eat my shrimp and fries – you can get regular or seasoned French fries on the side (get the seasoned. trust me.) – smothered in hot sauce and fresh lemon juice, as I was taught. And, at least during lunch time, you also get a little “salad” consisting of iceberg lettuce, two slices of cucumber, one slice of tomato, and sometimes some thin-sliced carrots. Paltry? Sure, but at $5.60 for fish + fries + salad, who gives a shit? I eat the tomato and the cucumber and throw the rest out. Sometimes, if I eat the tomato and cucumber while I’m still in the store, they’ll replace it for me before I go!
“They” are two of the more delightful people one could hope to have preparing and serving one’s lunch. The owner is a middle-aged Chinese lady (or Korean? The Internet calls it Pak Fish Market, which would suggest Korean, but she looks Chinese to me) who buys everything fresh on Canal Street every morning and, in a brilliant example of adapting to one’s environment, calls all the women “mami.” In her thick accent. I adore her. Her compatriot is a friendly and warm young Latina who calls everyone “honey.” They remembered my order after the second time I went there, and their smiles always brighten up my day.
To recap: go to Fish Market. Get shrimp and seasoned fries. Douse them in fresh lemon and hot sauce. Smile at the ladies behind the counter. Just do yourself a favor and don’t try to tell anyone about the fresh fried fish shop or you’ll find yourself teetering on the precipice of a totally unanticipated tongue-twister. Of course, you could be my dad and respond, “Are the fresh fish fryers friendly fellows? … Fabulous,” but few people are that on their game.