When you think of the concrete jungle that is the border of Williamsburg and East Williamsburg, the thought of fresh fish is not usually the first thing on your mind. But for the last 22 years, Pat Zollo has sold locals some of the finest fresh fish in the city at Metropolitan Fish Market (635 Metropolitan Avenue, 718-387-6835).
A true anomaly in the area, Metropolitan Fish Market is located between a liquor store and a bodega. First opened in Ridgewood, Queens, in 1992, the store relocated to Williamsburg just a few years later. Today, the shop is the last of the true fish markets in this historically Italian section of Williamsburg, down from three others when it first opened.
Decorated like a cheap bait and tackle shop with old painted buoys and wooden fish hanging from above, Metropolitan smells and feels like a real New England seafood store. With prices that beat almost any high-end grocery store, the seafood is fresh and vibrant, often caught just days before. “You can tell by the eyes,” says Zollo about looking for fresh fish. And at Metropolitan, there is surely no shortage of fresh fish. From porgies to large chunks of tuna to still-swimming eels to fresh oysters, the store specializes in just about everything. Zollo also sells wholesale to dozens of restaurants and pizzerias in the area.
With the most weathered hands I have ever encountered, Zollo is the Central Casting version of a no-nonsense Brooklyn business owner. The first time I met him he was wearing a fisherman’s hoodie and fedora while slicing fish. With a hundred-yard stare and an encyclopedic memory of all things sea-related, Zollo and his driver arrive at the Fulton Fish Market in Queens before dawn five days a week to pick up their daily allotments, from fresh red snapper to local bluefish and Boston cod. And if a customer wants an eight-pound lobster, Zollo says he only needs one day to have it at the store. “Sure, whatever they wants,” he says matter-of-factly.
Zollo grew up on Wither Street and got his start working for his father, Jerry, who ran the legendary Jerry’s Meat Market, located just next door to where Metropolitan stands today. The elder Zollo is now retired, and the younger visits his father each Sunday on Long Island, often bringing out the choicest cuts of fish along with him. The food business is a family affair for Zollo — his uncle Mario runs the eponymous Mario and Sons Meat Market, just one short block away.
This section of Williamsburg was once almost entirely Italian, and to this day, you can still see older Italian women and men coming into the store for baccalà (dried and salted cod), whiting, and filet of sole. During the holidays, the store is the go-to spot for locals cooking the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Zollo owns the standalone corner building, and he is inundated weekly with entreaties from developers hoping to capitalize on the ever-skyrocketing Brooklyn real estate market. But luckily for local residents, Zollo insists he will never sell — he would like to consider handing off the business to his son Jerry, 25, many years down the line.