Shelsky's Appetizing features several versions of house-smoked salmon
Photo by Joshua Kristal
By Erin Behan
Though he was already running a catering business, Peter Shelsky couldn’t resist throwing around ideas for a Brooklyn storefront with friends and family. But it wasn’t until the Carroll Gardens resident was standing in line at Russ & Daughters for an hour — after battling traffic to get there — that it hit him: Why not open a traditional Jewish smoked fish and appetizing shop in Brooklyn?
He ran it by friends: “Schmaltzy and schmoozing, you’re perfect — minus the pig tattoo on your arm,” they said. That was the day after New Year’s, 2011. Fast-forward to June, when Shelsky opened the doors to Shelsky’s Smoked Fish at 251 Smith Street in Cobble Hill.
I’ll admit, when I first walked by the sign foretelling the opening of Shelsky’s, I paused. Could this neighborhood really support a shop solely dedicated to smoked fish and its accoutrements? That voice in my head was my inner inexperienced Gentile talking.
Shelsky gets his bagels and bialys daily from Kossar’s in the Lower East Side. There’s a price to pay for “the best bagels and bialys,” Shelsky says. For one, he has to drive to get them every morning, often encountering the very traffic he was inspired to leave behind. He also has to double-order on Friday and freeze the baked goods on Saturday, as the store closes for Shabbat.
The thick, chewy, fleshy bagels are worth Shelsky’s effort, and provide the perfect foil for slices of fresh lox and cream cheese. Shelsky’s also offers a beautifully turquoise blue caviar cream cheese.
Though if you are going for a lox/shmear bagel, I must say: After sampling several of Shelsky’s salmon offerings, it almost seems capricious to sandwich them at all.
Shelsky sources his salmon—including the popular pastrami salmon, mild Scottish salmon and fatty hot smoked salmon—from Acme Smoked Fish in Greenpoint, Samaki Smoked Fish in Port Jervis, N.Y., and La Maree Smokehouse in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Get it to go (salmon starts at $8.99 for a quarter pound), or perhaps order a sandwich. The Brooklyn Native, Shelsky’s favorite, is a pile of Eastern Gaspe nova, smoked whitefish salad, pickled herring and a sour pickle from Guss’ on a bagel or bialy ($10.50).
Shelsky house-makes an excellent pickled herring, dill-tinged cured gravlax, a very smooth whitefish salad and the unique clementine and ginger-cured salmon (inspired by his daughters Clementine and Ginger), along with the other salads in the case—egg salad and citrus roasted beets one day—and the lox-heavy lox cream cheese.
On a wooden shelf across from the gleaming refrigerator cases sit odes to preserved fish of all stripes–sardines in olive oil, canned salmon–and a few grocery items. Seeded and unseeded rye, sourdough Schmaltz rye and whole wheat bread comes daily from Orwasher’s.
Shelsky, who lives in Carroll Gardens, says most of his foot traffic so far has been from Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights, with Park Slopers schlepping over, as well.
“I’ve had a couple of people calling me from Jersey, saying ‘How do I get there?’ which is cool.” He says he gets the biggest kick from “all the Jewish parents who are visiting their kids” and making a stop.
As for drinks, there’s organic Ashlawn Farm Coffee served hot or iced and a selection of Dr. Brown’s sodas.
Lest this feel too old-school, there’s Shelsky’s forearm tattoo—a representation of a butcher’s pig diagram—to remind you that this isn’t exactly your grandfather’s Jewish delicatessen. Then again, there’s chocolate covered jelly rings and rugelach at the checkout counter.
Shelsky’s Smoked Fish
251 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.