A small, storefront restaurant and take-out operation offering a fresh take on the iconic Central New York fish fry is earning positive word-of-mouth and bringing diners to Solvay.
The Fish Friar opened in late fall on Milton Avenue, across the street from the Solvay Diner. Owners Joel Canino, Giovanni Giardina and Brad Vinciguerra have created a destination for fresh fish -- plus unique side dishes -- that's simply but elegantly prepared. If you like fish fry, or fish prepared more healthily, check it out.
THE VIBE: Clean and industrial. The sleek, stainless steel order counter and open kitchen area feature a series of black and white signs detailing the menu, sides and soups of the day. There's seating for six at a counter along the front window and for about six more at a community table fashioned from an old door and topped with glass. I ate lunch at one of the counter seats and was slightly concerned I might leave smelling of fried fish. Either the place has an excellent ventilation system or I am immune to the smell of fried food.
CHOWING DOWN: The simple menu lists five sandwiches, four "plates," one lunch/supper salad and homemade sides, like macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw, rice pilaf, roasted carrots (roasted carrots!!) and mushy peas. When is the last time you had mushy peas -- or saw them on a menu? Not into fried fish? The menu offers broiled haddock and sautéed shrimp, with your choice of sides. How nice to have some healthy options at a fish-fry!
The Friar salad with crispy shrimp ($12; above) called out to me. It features mixed greens, pickled onions, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots and -- surprise! -- chopped French fries as a garnish. The salad, arranged beautifully and served in a stainless steel bowl, was topped with five large, perfectly fried shrimp. I'm not sure what's in the coating, but it's super crispy. Ritz Crackers? Corn Flakes? The homemade salad dressing was light and fresh. Executive chef Giovanni Giardina, who previously worked at Alto Cinco and Otro Cinco in Syracuse, adds basil, mint and other fresh herbs to his vinaigrette.
I took home a container of the soup du jour, Spicy Sherry Cream Haddock Stew, for my other half to enjoy later. The stew was the consistency of a rich, thick chowder, with chunks of haddock and potatoes, and plenty of heat (with a bit of an afterburn). It was delicious, worth driving out of your way for. It is served every Friday.
SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT: One or two chef-made desserts, like cheesecake and cookies, are offered each day. The chocolate chip cookies ($2) would be easy to fall for.
WHAT'S A VEGETARIAN GOING TO FIND? Not much. French fries and salad. Vegetarians could make a meal of the sides, like roasted carrots, mushy peas and rice pilaf.
NEXT TIME: I'll try the lobster roll (offered both as a cold sandwich with mayonnaise dressing and as a hot sandwich, with butter) or the fried/broiled haddock plate with sides.
THE TAB: $14 and change for the salad and a bottled water, plus $9 for the stew to go.
The Fish Friar is at 2409 Milton Ave., Solvay. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.