I’ve lived in the shore area since my teenage years, and I consider myself a local.
And as a local, I know the best spots for a freshly caught lobster dinner, steamed and ready to enjoy at a picnic table on the dock. I know where to get the best whole clam bellies, fried perfectly crisp, and where to buy sweet, fresh scallops as big as my palm, right off the boats.
With all of this in mind, you may be wondering why I’m writing about a fish market that’s 80 miles from the shore. After a look inside Metropolitan Seafood, though, you will not only understand, but you may just be planning your own trip there as well!
The first thing I noticed about Metro is its size. The shop is pretty big. It’s also bright and orderly, and upon entering, I immediately felt welcome. I browsed a bit, noticing the refrigerated section stocked with soups, compound butters, sauces, and mignonette. I also found a selection of caviar, smoked fish, seafood salads, and Lebanese specialties.
Mark Drabich, owner of Metropolitan Seafood, was kind enough to spend some time telling me about the seafood market and his history in the business.
Hard at Work
At age 15, Drabich’s first job was in a neighborhood fish market. As he gained experience in the industry, he went on to work in fish markets. He worked as a fish cutter in both New York and Philadelphia. (A fish cutter is responsible for preparing seafood products for sale by breaking down whole fish into filets or steaks, and/or removing, scales, and bones.)
Drabich was fast, but he also did “fancy” work, which earned him a prime spot in the fish market window where crowds would gather to watch his fancy knifework. He opened his first store in the neighboring town of Clinton 34 years ago.
All About the Fish
What makes Metropolitan Seafood so special, of course, is the fish, sourced from the world-famous, Fulton Fish Market. Celebrating its 200th year in operation, the Fulton Fish Market is one of the oldest markets in the United States, and is known the world over by fishmongers who value high-quality products. In addition to Fulton, Metropolitan Seafood sources its seafood from a few additional, select distributors.
Everything at the market comes in whole and is expertly broken down by Metropolitan’s superstar fish cutters. While this is a time-consuming process, it ensures that all fish is cut precisely to Metro’s standards. This preserves the quality and minimizes waste.
At the Counter
Walking up to the fish counter at Metropolitan Seafood is an experience. The people working behind the counter are busy! They are cutting fish, helping customers, and cleaning the work areas. It is a synchronized dance of flow and movement behind the counter! The fish has vibrant colors, with flesh that’s glossy, almost glowing. You can just tell that the quality is supreme.
The selection impressed me. I counted 12 types of oysters from all over the country: from Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, and Washington State, plus Canada.
I took a little taste test to experience the difference between East and West Coast varieties and learned that the taste of the oyster varies depending on the minerals and salinity of the water where it’s caught.
It would not be possible for me to visit a seafood market of this caliber without bringing something home for dinner. The sushi-grade halibut seemed to be calling my name. When I asked how best to prepare it I was not only given a simple recipe but the fishmonger even took the time to write it down for me. Now that’s service!
Easy Halibut Recipe
- Halibut (enough for 2 servings)
- Olive oil, for coating the pan
- Fresh herbs of your choosing
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ stick butter
- Preheat the oven 400° F.
- Lightly rinse the fish in cold water and then dry it completely.
- Start with a light coating of oil in an ovenproof pan.
- Get the oil hot and sear the fish skin side down for 3 minutes.
- Gently flip the fish and cook the flesh side for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add fresh herbs (not dried!) to the pan with about a cup of white wine.
- Bake for 10 minutes exactly.
- Take the pan out (carefully, with an oven mitt) and swirl in butter: about ½ stick.
A True Experience
Metropolitan Seafood, does not just deliver good customer service, they excel at it. Their motto and philosophy are to provide customers with a “Resort Experience.” They want you to feel welcome when you arrive.
Browse the freshly stocked shelves of gourmet items. Ask questions about the fish and how best to prepare it. You might be offered a bite of something — like a West Coast oyster or a sliver of fresh salmon while you wait.
A stop at Metro isn’t a chore, the way food shopping can be, it is an experience, the way food shopping should be. It is a formula that keeps customers coming back because you know you are going to get a superior product and it’s going to be a pleasant experience.
Be sure to check out Metropolitan Seafood’s website for updates on daily seafood availability, the takeout menu, and specials. And if you are looking for a real, ongoing show, also follow Metropolitan Seafood on Instagram and Facebook to see reels and pictures of the superstar cutters in action.
Metropolitan Seafood and Gourmet Market
1320 Route 22
West Lebanon, NJ 08833