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Welcome to Herring Season

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Your explorers, International Marketing Coordinator Joe Soriero and Copywriter Tim Rozmus, in a surprisingly well-mannered moment. Photo: Molly Cichy

We’ve all been studying up on our Norwegian knowledge to prepare for the opening of our newest sister brewery, E.C. Dahl’s, in Trondheim, Norway on August 4th. It’s been a lot of fun, since our preferred research method has primarily consisted of listening to heavy metal and reading about Nordic history. At least, that’s how International Marketing Coordinator Joe Soriero and I like to study. But one thing kept eluding us: true Norwegian food.

Nordic food in general isn’t hard to find in New York City. From Claus Meyer’s Great Northern Food Hall and Agern in Grand Central Station, to Michelin-starred restaurants like Aquavit and Luksus, it’s arguably easier to find fine Scandinavian food in New York than in a good percentage of Europe. But for the deepest-rooted and most Norwegian food in New York City, you need herring. And for the best herring, you’re looking for Russ and Daughters.

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When you hear most people lament the heyday of “old New York,” it’s a fair bet that they’re talking about CBGB. The true “old” New York is still alive in places like Russ & Daughters, where foods made popular by the city’s first immigrant booms still reign surpreme. The white-coated staff there have been serving up cured fish, traditional baked goods and half-forgotten Old World groceries since 1914.

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When Joe and I visited the original Russ & Daughters shop on Houston Street on a hot Sunday evening, the shop was buzzing with people on a first-name basis with the fishmongers behind the counter. The energy and the trays of food displayed in their pristine white cases were enough to work up a serious appetite. Throw in the fact that we had only consumed coffee that day in an effort to really enjoy ourselves, and we were a dropped crumb short of making a scene. We quickly repaired to the Russ and Daughters Cafe around the corner on Orchard Street to find and consume as much herring as possible.

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Fortunately, our excursion happened to fall during herring season. We could lie and say we planned this carefully, but we were honestly surprised to find a special menu celebrating the season waiting for us. We ordered the Herring Fix, and well, scroll back up and look at the thing.

We were totally unprepared. Four herring, split along their backs, arrived with lines of diced vidalia onions and cornichons to stuff inside. The whole assembly was conducted in a slightly sweet challah hot dog bun and accompanied by intensely herbal glasses of Linie Aquavit. Armed only with egg creams and a full day’s worth of hunger, we dived straight in.

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Our hunger was no match for the bunned onslaught. The cool, silky herring was punctuated with bursts of sweet acid from the onions and pickles, tailing off into a faintly smoky and pleasantly fishy taste. The Linie proved to be more than enough to tidy up the lingering flavors, in the same way that a jet engine could help dust off your television. The earthy punch of the liquor made you gasp slightly, tickling your sinuses and watering your eyes so that each sip looked like a bad acting audition.

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This presentation was more of an experience than a meal, and Joe and I were nearly silent as we enjoyed the fish and grappled with the aquavit. We left the Cafe deeply satisfied and enamored with Norway in general and herring in particular. Our meal, while far from traditional, built quite a case for the flavors of Norwegian food. We spoke about the thrilling prospects of the new E.C. Dahl’s kitchen, and our own potential visits there. Would they serve their herring on buns? Which beer from their lineup would they pair? Should we wait for an invitation, or just show up?

While we walked, we realized that we had forgotten a key step in our meal: dessert. Armed with the patience of the well-fed, we joined the line at Morganstern’s to cap off our adventure with a cone of their justifiably famous black coconut ash ice cream.

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From there we parted ways, shaking hands with fingers still reeking of herring. Thanks to our journey, we feel fully prepared to welcome E.C. Dahl’s to the family, and we can’t wait to eat with them.

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