Given our love of all things smoked and aquatic, we couldn’t wait to get on the F train to Shelsky’s, a store that opened on Smith Street earlier this week. And so yesterday, we did.
Although the shop is in its infancy, its long display case is already stocked with fleshy specimens of salmon, sable, and smoked bluefish procured from the likes of Acme and Samaki. There are also a few salads, including herring and whitefish, and a tub filled with herring fillets pickled on the premises.
Wanting to try as much as we could, preferably squished between something bread-like, we ordered the Peter Shelsky, a sandwich named for the store’s 32-year-old proprietor. As written on the menu, it contains Eastern Gaspé salmon, sable, pickled herring with cream sauce and pickled onion, and scallion cream cheese, served on a bagel or bialy.
As we have a lifelong aversion to most forms of cream sauce, we ordered the sandwich without it, and on a garlic bialy. And then for the hell of it, we got a side of whitefish salad. The sandwich rang in at $11.50, and the salad at $5.75 (it costs $17.98 per pound, which is almost $1 more than Russ & Daughters’ whitefish salad).
We sat down on a park bench to eat it all. As we contemplated the merits of an $11.50 sandwich, a couple of elderly ladies sat on a neighboring bench, discussing greedy landlords and rising rents. “Where am I supposed to go?” one asked the other, and got only a murmur in response.
But if Shelsky’s is selling once-humble immigrant food to a neighborhood increasingly populated by people who can afford to fetishize it, at least it’s doing a good job of it. The sandwich we ate showcased some very high-quality fish, as well as some very fresh cream cheese. Both the sable and salmon were sliced to near-transparency, as the herring was firm and sweet. The bialy, from Kossar’s, was chewy and exuded a pleasant garlic funk, and the onions added crunchy contrast to the silken fish.
The only issue we had was a structural one: Each bite we took threatened to expel the herring from the bialy. It’s a little too thick for its surroundings, and would probably be easier to eat if it were sliced into smaller pieces. Such is life.
As for the whitefish salad, it was creamy and smoky, but contained a little too much mayo for our liking. It also harbored little bits of cucumber and celery, and the latter, in our eyes, is a cardinal sin where whitefish salad (or anything else) is concerned, so we are steadfast in our loyalty to Russ & Daughters’ version. That said, being able to find whitefish salad on Smith Street is still a cause for celebration, and pretty much everything else we tried at Shelsky’s had us hooked.
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