I have lived in the coastal area since my teens and consider myself a local.
And as a local, I know the best spots for a dinner of freshly caught lobster, steamed and ready to enjoy at a picnic table on the wharf. I know where to find the best whole clam bellies, perfectly crispy fries, and where to buy fresh, sweet scallops as big as my palm, right next to the boats.
With all of this in mind, you might be wondering why I am writing about a fish market 80 miles from shore. After taking a look at Metropolitan Seafood, not only will you understand, but you might also be planning your own trip there!
The first thing I noticed about Metro was its size. The store is quite large. It’s also bright and tidy, and upon entering I immediately felt welcome. I browsed around a bit, noticing the refrigerated section stocked with soups, blended butters, sauces, and reseda. 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 at a neighborhood fish market. As he gained experience in the industry, he worked in fish markets. He worked as a fish cutter in New York and Philadelphia. (A fish cutter is responsible for preparing seafood products for sale by breaking down whole fish into fillets or steaks and/or removing scales and bones.)
Drabich was quick, but he also did “fancy” work, earning him pride of place in the fish market window where crowds gathered to watch his knife work. He opened his first store in nearby Clinton 34 years ago.
All about fish
What makes Metropolitan Seafood so special, of course, is the fish, sourced from the famous Fulton Fish Market. Celebrating its 200th anniversary of operation, Fulton Fish Market is one of the oldest markets in the United States and is known worldwide by fishmongers who appreciate high-quality produce. In addition to Fulton, Metropolitan Seafood sources seafood from a few additional select distributors.
Everything on the market comes whole and is expertly broken down by Metropolitan’s superstar fish cutters. Although this is a time consuming process, it ensures that all fish are cut precisely to Metro standards. This preserves quality and minimizes waste.
At the counter
Walking to the fish counter at Metropolitan Seafood is an experience. The people working behind the counter are busy! They cut fish, assist customers and clean work areas. It’s a synchronized dance of flow and movement behind the counter! The fish has vibrant colors, with shiny, almost glowing flesh. You can just say the quality is supreme.
The selection impressed me. I counted 12 types of oysters from all over the country: Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California and Washington State, plus Canada.
I did a little taste test to find out the difference between east coast and west coast varieties and learned that oyster taste varies depending on minerals and water salinity where it is 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. That’s service!
Easy halibut recipe
- Halibut (enough for 2 servings)
- Olive oil, to coat the pan
- Fresh herbs of your choice
- 1 glass of white wine
- ½ stick of butter
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Rinse the fish lightly in cold water and then dry it completely.
- Start with a light coating of oil in an ovenproof skillet.
- Heat the oil and sear the fish skin side down for 3 minutes.
- Carefully turn the fish over 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 exactly 10 minutes.
- Take the pan out (carefully, with an oven mitt) and swirl the butter in: about ½ stick.
A real experience
Metropolitan Seafood doesn’t just provide good customer service, it excels at it. Their motto and philosophy is to provide guests with a “resort experience”. They want you to feel at home when you arrive.
Browse the shelves freshly stocked with gourmet items. Ask questions about the fish and the best way to prepare it. You might be offered a bite of something, like a West Coast oyster or a slice of fresh salmon while you wait.
A stop at the subway isn’t a chore, like food shopping can be, it’s an experience, like food shopping should be. It’s a formula that keeps customers coming back because you know you’re going to get a top quality product and it’s going to be an enjoyable experience.
Be sure to check the Metropolitan Seafood website for updates on daily seafood availability, take-out menu and specials. And if you’re looking for a real show in progress, also follow Metropolitan Seafood on Instagram and Facebook to see reels and photos of the superstar cutters in action.
Metropolitan seafood and gourmet market
1320 Route 22
West Lebanon, NJ 08833