Friday, June 15, 2007

Off the Hook

– fish and chips that are fresh, delicious and cheap

special thanks to The Journal News

Think the British have a lock on fish and chips? Think again. Off the Hook in Haverstraw serves the fried fish of the American South, along with fries and an assortment of down-home sides that include candied yams, coleslaw, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. If you’re fry-phobic, there are steamed or grilled options, and if you’re not a fish fan, chicken strips and chicken wings are available, too, but the raison d’etre of this mainly takeout establishment is very fresh fish dredged in seasoned flour then carefully fried to order and served with big meaty fries. The fish – choices include whiting, tilapia, red snapper, shrimp and catfish – ends up moist and delicately textured. And you’re eating all fish – not half fish, half crispy batter.

The owners – Richard Clarke, Tony Dandridge, Jess Eason and Sean Jennings – mainly hail from the Bronx, but some have Southern roots. Clarke and Dandridge, both retired New York City detectives, scoped out the many fish and chip shops in Harlem, taking a close look at what they considered the better examples, and used them as a template for their Haverstraw shop. One of their secret weapons: All their fish is fresh, never frozen. In fact, if you order porgie, it may have been caught by one of the Off the Hook owners. Another secret weapon: Yolanda Dandridge, wife of Tony. She’s responsible for the better-than-homemade desserts, including an over-the-top lemon pound cake. It’s convincing evidence that butter and lemon are the most logically paired couple since Adam and Eve.

If you go, take a hearty appetite and/or some friends and family, because the portions are shockingly generous. When the menu says that an order of the original fish and chips contains four pieces of fish, it means you’ll find four sizable fillets atop your fries. To be more precise, the fish so completely fills the container that at first we thought they had forgotten the fries, but no, they were there, playing a supporting role, hidden beneath all that fish. An order of tilapia, steamed along with potatoes, onions and broccoli, was substantial enough to serve as an entree for three or four. You also may need to bring your patience because, except for the side dishes, which require lots of simmering to get that home-cooked flavor, everything is made to order. That means your fish will always be served hot and fresh, but if things get busy, you may have to cool your heels while you wait your turn. Fortunately, you can cool your throat at the same time with a glass of Off the Hook’s intensely sweet-tart lemonade.What you don’t need to bring, though, is a fat wallet. The priciest item on the menu is a combo of six pieces of fish and 10 shrimp for $16. At the low end, you can get a basket of wings for $4, a whiting sandwich for $4.50, or a huge chunk of the eggy baked macaroni and cheese for $2.75. The downside is seating. Off the Hook is set up primarily for takeout, although there is limited counter space available. A note about condiments: Hot sauce, tartar sauce and ketchup are available to top off your plate, but if you’re still clinging to British fish and chips mode, ask for the bottle of malt vinegar that’s behind the counter.