Ode to a Fish Sandwich
Sigh. I just had my usual Lenten lunch, fish sandwich, fries. Got it from the cafeteria downstairs. It was good. Pretty good, actually. But it wasn't as good as the fish sandwich at our old cafeteria. Now THAT was a fish sandwich! A thick plank of fish with tender breading served on a hoagie bun. A full pint of creamy macaroni and cheese served on the side. Homemade tartar sauce waiting at the salad bar. All for five-fifty! I'd eat it and be so stuffed I'd be dozing by 2PM and unable to think about food until midnight.
But that's all in the past now. New cafeteria. New company running it. Ahh, I'm being too hard on them. Heck, that was a pretty decent fish sandwich I just had. But it was one of those square patties you know came through some sort of industrial press (catch any cube-shaped fish lately?) and that takes away some of the romance. The fries were baked and probably came out of a freezer bag. They did have their own tartar sauce, and it was pretty good. It was all pretty good. Not fantastic. Sigh.
I think back to the best fish sandwich I ever had (and yes, I know how pathetic it is that THESE are the memories I cling to. Go take a stroll in my shoes, see what you remember and what you repress). I was working downtown on the 38th floor of the US Steel building. From time to time I would walk to the window and wonder how big a crater I would leave if I jumped out of said window. I didn't like my job much.
I was working a later shift and went for lunch at 3PM, and I walked down to Smithfield Street get lunch. The previous week I'd noticed a sign in a window that said "Fish sandwich special $5.50" and that seemed like a good deal. The shop in question was Wiener World, which is a sorta (sorta?) dumpy looking place that the fussy among you would not find appetizing. But it was late, the food court in my building was closed, and I was depressed enough to take a chance.
They were just getting ready to close. I gave the nice lady at the stainless steel counter my order and she said no problem and got to work. A guy with not many teeth put two, three, four big pieces of fish in a fryer and dumped it on the oil. The lady took two big handfuls of fries and put them in another fryer. Is there a more delightfully hypnotic sight than watching hot oil bubble as it cooks your lunch? It smelled great, too. The fact that this oil had probably been at a boil for six weeks straight didn't bother me a whit. I was too depressed to worry about trifles.
As the chef lifted the baskets clear I thought they must be making two lunches, because even I couldn't eat THAT much in one sitting. The lady asked if I wanted tartar sauce, and I said Oh Yes, and she split open a big bun and slathered it with a Day-Glo yellow sauce she spooned from a metal tub. She stacked each of the four slabs of fish on the bun, pressed it down tight, and gave it a quick swipe with a knife. This she wrapped in foil, before she loaded a huge paper boat with sizzling fries and wrapped them as well.
I handed over my cash and hugged the bag to my bosom. It was warm, so very warm. I carried it back to my office with my stomach and taste buds calling on me to run, run you fat bastard, run! For some reason I took my bundle back to my desk instead of the cafeteria--actually, I now remember that I thought it might look bad if I sat there chowing down on takeout in front of the staff. A slap in their collective faces, if you will.
I opened that foil and, dear God, did it smell good. It smelled...fried. The fish was fresh and flaky and tender and the tartar sauce tart and creamy. The fries were salty and crisp, not soggy at all. As I chowed, people in the cubes around me started prairedogging to see where that INCREDIBLE smell was coming from. I knew I was disrupting the entire floor, but I didn't care. This moment was all about me and my sandwich. A moment I cherish to this very day.
Wonder if WW still has their fish sandwich special. I could take a quick jaunt into town next week, though I wouldn't have time to jaunt to AND fro in the time allowed. I simply MUST find out before Peter Cottontail arrives. I did promise myself that I would NOT eat at Long John Silvers during Lent, which I did last year and it worked out well for me. No buyer's remorse, no nausea, no brushing and re-brushing my teeth like an obsessive-compulsive. Lent can be a culinary minefield if you get lazy.