Shelsky's Smoked Fish
251 Smith St, Boerum Hill
Rating:4 Out of 5 L's
Latkes, smoked whitefish, pickled herring, oh my. The selection in the glass deli cases at Shelsky's Smoked Fish could send a good Catholic boy into a tailspin. "I think you're going to have to order for me,"says my husband, who was educated by priests and nuns from kindergarten through high school and then went on to a university run by Jesuits. Gefilte fish was never on the syllabus. As a public-schooled Catholic from Long Island, I know my way around a dreidel, rocked a few bat mitzvahs, and spent much of my teenage social time at a 24-hour eatery called Bagel Boss. (And I could throw half a dozen Yiddish catchphrases into this review, but I won't. You're welcome.) So, I've seen the smoked whitefish tented under plastic wrap before, but have I tasted it? Nope! I'm not going to pretend to know how Shelsky's stands up to the appetizing shops of old, but I will say that owner Pete Shelsky makes a sick smoked fish sandwich, even for the gefilte-fearing gentiles among us.
The Shelsky's Pastrami sandwich is a must-try—especially if you're one of those "vegetarians"who eats fish. It's basically a Mile End smoked meat sandwich for the beef-adverse. House-cured "pastrami salmon"is smoked and crusted with coarse salt, pepper and spices, then sliced and piled on pumpernickel. Sauerkraut and house-made mustard herring cut the richness of the fish. If you've got a friend to go halfsies with, split the pastrami and a Brooklyn Transplant sandwich. Here, fatty kippered salmon gets a sharp kick from apple horseradish, a vinegary dose of pickled herring salad, and a cooling layer of cream cheese. Not sure if you like herring, Christian soldiers? Consider this your big chance to check it out.
The long, slim shop has a couple of seats by the window, but it's built for take-out. Grab an old-school dessert on your way out—they've got chocolate babkas, rugelach, coconut macaroons, handmade blintzes or jelly chocolate rings. But it's not all old-school here. As the shop owner kvetches (Yiddish! Sorry!) with a customer about the sad state of produce offered by a local CSA, I notice that he has a pork primal cuts diagram tattooed on his forearm. It's not facing inward, like a butcher's permanent cheat-sheet, but facing outward as if to tell the world, "This man's not afraid to hack up a pig! "I explain to my husband that both tattoos and pork consumption are against the Jewish religion. In other words, this Shelsky character is a renegade! As his shop settles in, it'll be fun to see what he'll come up with next.
Right in the Kishka