Despite its reputation as a seafood mecca, Seattle bases most of that culinary cred on a small segment of the industry: fresh, in-season fish. It hasn’t always been that way.
In the late 19th century, the West Coast was dotted with seafood canneries and, as Seattle grew, it boasted several smokehouses. With the arrival of flash freezing and speedy modern transportation, the seafood-preserving industry all but faded away. Starting this month, however, two pairs of local restaurant industry veterans are reviving the old-school fish preservation methods.
Zoi Antonitsas, a former Top Chef contestant (and previously of Westward and Omega Ouzeri), and Bryan Jarr of the tiny but big-thinking Spanish tapas spot
JarrBar on Western Avenue, will open Little Fish, becoming one of the anchor tenants of Pike Place Market’s Producers Hall in the new MarketFront addition on Western Avenue. Little Fish will integrate a cannery, a retail shop and the pair’s accompanying seafood restaurant.
Meanwhile, Young Bros. Smoked Fish Co., from brothers Zac and Jesse Young, will open this month in the Hillman City neighborhood.
Both businesses cite New York City’s Russ & Daughters, a traditional Jewish “appetizing store” as inspiration, with fridges full of whitefish salad and jewel-like displays of smoked fish.
Both shops want to bring a forgotten style of seafood — canned fish at Little Fish and smoked fish at Young Bros. — back to the Seattle culinary scene. How each pair arrived at this point and the scale of what they’re doing are completely different.
Jarr first worked with Antonitsas in his role as co-owner of the now-shuttered Madison Park Conservatory, where Antonitsas was the chef. While there, he collaborated with Pike Place Fish Market on its cookbook, which sparked his interest in learning more about seafood; he learned that buying seafood in large quantities bestowed advantages, such as lower price and higher quality. He began to ponder what type of business would allow him the freedom to buy like that.
The canning operation at Little Fish will begin with simple products, such as Pacific oysters, savory clams, salmon and albacore tuna, canned in their own liquor; then, canning production will move onto taramasalata (a Greek spread made from salted and cured fish eggs), which Jarr and Antonitsas will make with sustainable, local pollock roe instead of overfished cod roe. They want their products to be approachable not only to locals, but to everyone from “the gay hipster from New York to your grandma from Ohio,” Jarr says. In the restaurant, the tinned seafood will show up in dishes like tuna melts and clam cakes.
The Young brothers are focusing on local, wild-caught seafood, smoked in house. Young Bros. Smoked Fish Co. will be a Northwest smokehouse with a deli counter that serves house-made products in all sorts of preparations — hot and cold smoked salmon sliced to order, smoked fish chowders and potato fish cakes.
Zac and Jesse Young come from an entirely different side of the restaurant industry: As building contractors, they’ve done buildouts for places like Cupcake Royale and Nue — it’s how Zac met his wife, Heather Earnhardt, when he was building her place, The Wandering Goose. Earnhardt, incidentally, will be making Young Bros.’ baked goods, except for the bagels (brought in to go with the house-made lox), which will be provided by Matt Tinder of Bremerton’s Saboteur Bakery.
Cold-smoked king salmon will be one of the specialties at Young Bros. Smoked Fish Co. in Hillman City.
The Young brothers’ shop will offer some riffs on Northwest family recipes they learned as kids, when they prepared the fish they caught in local rivers, and will also include original creations resulting from the avid fishermen’s experiments, such as their cocktail-inspired old-fashioned salmon gravlax with bourbon, orange zest and brown sugar. There also will be Cajun-spiced smoked shrimp and miso-sake-marinated smoked black cod.
“We grew up in Alaska, all over the Northwest, always with the smoker going in the backyard,” explains Zac. Lately, he’s noticed a lack of quality smoked salmon in stores, and smoked seafood in general. “This is the land of salmon,” he says. “It should be represented by smoked seafood.”
He saw an opening to help make that happen with Young Bros. It’s a sentiment echoed by Jarr and Antonitsas: Seattle is a seafood town, so why is the city's idea of seafood so limited?
Pike Place Market, 1901 Western Ave., Suite F; jarrandco.com
Young Bros. Smoked Fish Co.
Hillman City, 5605 Rainier Ave. S; smokedfishshop.com
A version of this story originally appeared in Seattle magazine's July issue.