The seafood-focused pop-up became so popular in the pandemic that it’s now a permanent restaurant
2021 Eater New Guard members Ed Szymanski and Patricia Howard’s pop-up, Dame, was supposed to sell fish and chips to New Yorkers for a few weeks in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic. Just about a year later, they’re still dunking hunks of hake into the deep fryer.
“We thought we’d be doing three or four orders every hour,” says Szymanski. “We didn’t think we’d be selling 100 pounds of fish every week.” The response to the couple’s battered hake, fried to crispy perfection, was explosive, and our video followed the duo as they tested out recipes six weeks before opening the doors to their permanent space in NYC’s West Village.
“The pandemic has left a lot of chefs untethered and that’s allowed pop-ups and people like us to really blossom and start cooking their own food,” Szymanski says, pullying a whole hake out of his fresh daily delivery. He prefers this breed for his fish and chips, as it’s more local to the area than the commonly used cod, but it’s a similar flaky white fish that holds up well to frying.
He debones the fish, adds some lemon zest, salt and sugar, and then dips it straight into batter made with flour, sweet potato starch, rice flour, baking powder, cold beer, and vodka. Szymanski stresses the importance of making the batter to order each time, as he wants the fish to steam inside the fresh, cold batter as it fries in the hot oil. He finishes the dish with a few mists of vinegar from a spray bottle, which adds that signature tangy flavor without causing the crispy fish to get soggy. Szymanski and his team go through about 150 pounds of hake on the weekends alone, and churns out about 100 orders on his busiest days.
“People in England don’t eat fish and chips that much, like it’s not a common part of your diet in the U.K.,” says Szymanski, a U.K. native. “So I was like, ‘there’s no way it’s going to be popular in America,’ and their response was just overwhelming straight off the bat.”
Aside from feeding NYC crispy seafood, Szymanski and Howard have another goal they hope to achieve with the opening of their restaurant: narrowing the pay gap between those who work in the front of the house, and those who work in the back. “It’s part of who we want to be as restaurateurs,” Szymanski says. “We’re going to use our privilege and our position as restaurant owners to help people more than just outside the four walls of the restaurant. Our mission as restaurateurs is to give back to the community in more ways than just cooking them dinner.”