Welcome to What I Miss Most, a recurring column in which writers wax poetic about the things from home that they found themselves yearning for upon moving to NYC (or the things from NYC they craved upon moving away from it). For an archive of previous What I Miss Most columns, click here.
I fled Florida. The balmy nights, the tepid waters, the mid-afternoon storms that’d so frequently punctuate summer’s long, hot days. I traded those things (and a bunch of other true cliches about my homeland) for New York City, leaving behind friends, family, and Publix in the process.
Most importantly, I left behind grouper sandwiches.
It would be years before I’d accept the grim truth: there is no good grouper in NYC. In retrospect, it was completely naive of me to believe anything else. The fish -- a slow-swimming reef behemoth -- is most prevalent in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, where the water is warm. In New York City, the water is as warm as the reality, which is to say, it’s quite cold. Also, exceptionally grouper-less.
This is my existence, and I’m OK with it now. But it wasn’t always this way. There was a series of painful steps I’d have to take first.
Step 1: Denial
I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn with three other Floridians, who had already been living there for a year before I arrived. If anyone knew where to find good seafood, my statesmen would be a good start. “So where do you guys go around here for fish?” I asked. Answers ranged from where to get the best fish tacos to an Argentinian cafe that had a killer Chilean sea bass. But no one could deliver on grouper. It can’t be true, I thought. It doesn’t make any sense.
See, fried grouper is a masterpiece. The filet is tossed delicately in a deep fryer until a golden-brown outer crust develops. From there, it’s taken out and placed briefly in a basket to dry, before being set atop a bed of tartar sauce spread haphazardly over a Kaiser roll. That’s outside. Inside this crispy cornmeal blanket, the grouper itself remains flaky & warm. The meat will barely hold its structure as you make your way through the sandwich. And the tartar sauce! Oh, the tartar sauce. It sets up the piping-hot filet with a creamy, tangy, utterly smooth alley-oop. A grouper sandwich, built properly, is edible bliss.
You can imagine that when I discovered I wouldn’t be able to find such seaborne supremacy in New York, I felt lost. I felt sad. I felt...
Step 2: Anger
I was busy my first month in the New York: pounding pavement for work, arranging the shipment of my bike, and exploring with wide eyes a city I’d never stepped foot in before. New York City! Opportunities were endless! Cuisines, unrivaled! Amidst the new-town thrill, I temporarily forgot about my longing for grouper. It wouldn’t last.
Sometime around mid-summer 2010, I stepped off Bedford Ave and into Williamsburg’s Surf Bar, a still-standing joint that serves strong Tiki drinks and seafood. Oysters, mahi mahi, crab cakes, shrimp... Surely they have grouper here!