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Midway through our conversation, I asked my new friend if he preferred sturgeon over gravlax. “Psh, I don’t need no herb on my salmon,” he replied. We were two of about 20 people waiting in line in the heart of industrial Greenpoint on a cold fall morning, eager for our chance to procure slabs of smoked fish.
Acme Smoked Fish (30 Gem Street, Brooklyn; 718-383-8585) is the premier wholesaler of quality smoked fish in New York City, maybe in the country. The family-run company supplies such storied purveyors as Sables, Zabar’s, and Barney Greengrass with sliced and cured delicacies.
Acme has been in business since 1906, when it was founded by Russian immigrant Harry Brownstein. Known then as a “jobber,” Brownstein sold fresh and smoked fish throughout the area in a horse-drawn wooden wagon. In 1954, he opened the first operating plant in a small section of a warehouse; he eventually bought that warehouse and slowly expanded to every building on the block. Today, the business is run by the third and fourth generation of Brownstein’s family, the Caslows.
Though it’s hard to find, the factory is actually the largest smokehouse in the entire country. Seven days a week, the team smokes fish over natural hardwood chips for anywhere from four hours (hot-smoked products like whitefish) to a 18 hours (salmon, which is cold-smoked at around 80 degrees).
Just over 20 years ago, the owners started what has become known as Fish Fridays. Every Friday, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., they open up their gigantic warehouse to sell their products on foldout tables set up in the many production rooms. Friday is the only day to buy the fish directly from the facility, and it’s priced just a bit over cost.
While you’re waiting in line, you’ll watch dozens of Acme employees take their breaks outside, where they smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, and talk about Roberto Clemente. You’ll enter the makeshift fish market in the warehouse storeroom, where freshly smoked salmon bellies lie next to whole smoked trout and golden-colored whitefish. You’d do well to follow the lead of the customer who stood behind me on my last visit: “I usually get about five of the smoked trout,” he said.
Employees wearing white coats and hairnets ring you up, and you’ll walk away feeling like you stole something. You can get salmon here starting at $15. For those who like their salmon with pastrami seasonings, its $20 direct from Acme.
That means that even if you don’t call Williamsburg or Greenpoint home, the Friday event is worth an excursion — so call in sick and get in line.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Brownstein’s origins. He is Russian, not German. It also incorrectly stated the year Acme was founded, which was 1906, not 1905. It misidentified smoking times, which range from four hours to 18 hours, not 30 minutes to a few hours. The above has been change to reflect the correct information.