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Why are Boston fish markets lame?

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Why is seafood so lame in Boston?

I'm watching "Good Eats" on FoodTV (about flatfish) and see that a Whole Foods market somewhere in the US has a larger and fresher selection of fish than anything I've seen here.

Why do most all markets here only carry the usual fish and shellfish, and why does it look 5 days old?

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  1. Which fish markets have you tried.
    I suggest:
    Captain Mardens , wellesley
    Quarterdeck, Maynard
    Wulf's, Brookline

    1. My favorite place to buy fish:
      New Deal Fish Market
      622 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA
      Hours: Mon 3pm-7pm, Tue-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 9:30-6:30, Closed Sunday

      A great fish market. Also, another place to try is Courthouse Fish Market, a little further down Cambridge St.

      8 Replies
      1. re: turtl_girl

        new deal good place sushi quality fish love it

        1. re: porkbelly
          A Fish Called Wanda

          I'll third the New Deal suggestion. As long as you stay away from regular supermarkets, Boston has outstanding fish. Try New Deal in east cambridge, Captain Marden's in wellesley, or Fresh pond seafood. All Whole Foods have good fish too, but unfortunately, they don't do the best job scaling, gutting, filleting, etc.

          Link: http://www.beyondsalmon.com

          1. re: A Fish Called Wanda

            I have been exceedingly unhappy with freshness at the Fresh Pond Whole Foods. Don't even bother anymore, although the display invariably looks good.

            Fresh pond seafood is somewhat expensive, but always fresh and perfectly cut.

            1. re: A Fish Called Wanda

              Regular supermarkets can be a good source for some local seafood. I know the MarketBasket chain buys all it's Haddock and other local seafood products from local fish mongers that buy fresh in the morning, and deliver to the supermarket the same day. And I can get Haddock cheaper from MarketBasket than I can from the local fish store that distributes to the local MarketBasket, with the same fish. But if I want BlueFin, or Winter Flounder, I'll order it from my local fish monger.

              1. re: A Fish Called Wanda

                I have been very disappointed with freshness at Whole Foods in general. With the exception of the oysters, I have never had anything from the fish department that wasn't questionable in some way.

                Last time I went into the Woburn location, I picked up some mussels. I asked about the harvest date and I was surprised to hear they were already 10 days out of the water! The guy told me they just got them from the distributor that day and it should be fine - they always carry them that way. I was skeptical but took them anyway. When I took the bag out of my cart 10 minutes later, the reek of ammonia was practically overwhelming (I didn't buy them).

                Seriously - never again. Screw Whole Foods.

                1. re: lisa13

                  Joining the "bad seafood at WF" club. I have gotten more bad seafood from this location over the years and swear off it every time. A year or so goes by and I try again and every time something goes wrong. Last month it was bad littlenecks. Yes, I can get my money back but it's really a pain to have to go back every time. And it is actually every time.

                  I do agree the Boston seafood market situation is kind of lame- to have only 5 decent fish stores to serve a city and suburbs the size of Boston is pretty sad.

                  1. re: Scruffy The Cat

                    I' ve had to get my $ back from crappy fish at Alewife WF.

            2. re: turtl_girl

              Yeah this is *the* place to go to for fish.

            3. I buy most of my seafood at the Brighton Whole Foods Market, and it's just fine. The staff really know their fish, too.

              2 Replies
              1. re: FoonFan

                I concur about the Brighton Whole Foods. Having lived in Pittsburgh I know of the "Strip" Seafood place (named Wooleys by the way) which was previously mentioned. The prices weren't that great and though they had a nice selection of live stock a majority of their product was previously frozen and over priced.

                While living in Pittsbergh I prefered to frequent the Whole Foods there.

                Tam and Jones at Whole Foods Brighton, as well as the other guys, truly know their stuff.


                1. re: FoonFan

                  I also have always been satified with the seafood I buy at Whole Foods in Brighton. They seem to always reasonable quality specimens of what I am looking for.

                2. Fresh Pond Seafood near the Alewife double rotary in Cambridge is good.

                  Did it occur to you that a market being featured on a national food show might make their display look a bit more spiffy for the occasion? I wonder if they have that spread every day...

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: newhound

                    Try Turner's in Melsose. In addition to its restaurant, one can purchase fresh seafood to prepare at home.

                    1. re: Seamus

                      While I like Turner's, its selection is very limited in the market. Just a couple of miles down Lebanon St, in Maplewood Square, is Fisherman's Fleet, which does a gangbuster wholesale business but also has a retail business there except at the beginning of the week.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        I shop at both- but Fishermans Fleet can nbe very helpful on special orders. My SIL has great luck there for seven fishes on New Years Eve.

                      2. re: Seamus

                        Has anyone tried the fish from any of the markets in Chinatown? Many are swimming live in tanks, and others look pretty fresh when i've ventured in. Admittedly, I'm far from a fish expert, but I'd like to hear other's opinions. Sometimes it seems like the ethnic markets have more interesting varieties of good produce... Maybe that extends to fish?

                        1. re: FullBelly

                          While I haven't tried the fish in Chinatown, I just visited the Super 88 in Brighton (or Allston?) and bought some salmon steaks for something like $4.29 a lb. I am extremely fussy about fish - these were divine. Going back for more, when I can - they have a huge selection of fish, including lots I never heard of before.

                          Decided to buy there because the fish looked good & healthy, and there was NO fishy smell - something that makes me run in the other direction. They had the live fish, too - but that makes me run, too (that's a whole 'nuther story - I have two veggie kids, so some of their influence has rubbed off on me - not enough though, I guess!)

                          1. re: threedogs

                            Always ask to smell the fish there. While I have bought fresh fish, i also had to throw some scxallops away several weeks ago, they were horrible. I'm returning a pound of shrimp I bought there yesterday, the stench on opening the bag convincex me to go no further. It pays to be careful there.

                            1. re: galleygirl

                              Thank you so much for the heads up on their fish! Coming in from Lynn, I wouldn't be too happy to have to return something.

                          2. re: FullBelly

                            Fish from the Chinese markets can be quite good, as it's the stuff I grew up on. My parents, being first generation immigration, were extremely pick about their seafood, and ate a lot of it. The difference in shopping habits allowed them to browse the markets daily or every 2-3 days to shop for food for meals. They would buy whatever was fresh and a good deal, not necessarily approaching a store with a fish in mind. There came be some great finds there, but not everything is always top quality. I remember my mom finding everything from squid, crab, flounder to sea bass, and many other varieties I can't name in English.

                      3. I have to agree its kind of lame. Not becuase there's not an abundance of fish, its just always the same fish. Tuna, Salmon, Cod, some trout and maybe a red snapper, that's always the only thing you can find. But is that b/c the fish monger is not interested, or b/c that is all they can sell. I find the same for meats, great tenderloins and porterhouses, but try and find some funky cuts of meat and you have to drive all over. I just don't think most people are that adventursome from a culinary standpoint in this town, present company excluded of course. My 2 cent's. Wolfs in Brookline is my standby, not great, but at least you can get non-cod, salmon, tuna cuts.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: redwine

                          The chicken-egg issue is interesting. One marker of a better stocked fishmonger is whether it has arctic char in season (it's farmed in subarctic ponds (many artificial), so you cannot get it in the months when the ponds are iced up). I love char, and it does not present some of the environmental issues of large-scale sea farming of salmon. And I think it tastes better than farmed salmon. And wild Pacific salmon that has been previously frozen (as opposed to merely kept on ice) is not worth eating for me -- I find the compromise to texture and moisture too much.

                          Another good marker of quality is whether you can get skate on the wing, and that it has been bled properly (also an issue with shark-type seafood and bluefish).

                          And that you can get *dry* sea scallops.

                          Very fresh sardines in season are also a good sign.

                          Does anyone know who carries genuine local bay scallops in season?

                          1. re: Karl S

                            James Hook and Savenors both had the local scallops this season. This year, they went for about $30/lb.

                        2. Why do some people join internet boards and phrase questions in such a way that might alienate a lot of the potential responders.

                          The markets aren't so "lame." You may just be shopping in the wrong places.

                          Depending on what you're looking for, 2 good markets are J Hook and Sea to You.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: 9lives

                            Good point and suggestions, I'm looking forward to finding some good markets.

                          2. Courthouse Fish in Cambridge is fabulous and the guys behind the counter are very kind and very knowledgeable. YUM for the takeout.

                            1. First, fish markets are not lame, super markets whre you buy fish probably are. Super markets can't carry a wide variety, they need to capture a common nitch and stick to that. You need to get a reputable 'fish only' market and as AB says, 'get to know your fish monger'.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: treb

                                That said, there used to be more good fish markets in beantown in the Bay State Lobster, the other small place in the North End, Fresh Pond, etc.

                              2. Yeah, I completely support the OP's theme here. Many of the fish markets suggested here are very expensive. Other places in New England have many stores with very fresh fish at reasonable prices (I have posted on how wonderful mid-coast Maine is for this). Without accusing the OP of 'shopping in supermarkets' (lol) why do you suppose the options we have in greater Boston are so limited?

                                I like the chicken and egg theory: we have become accustomed to poor quality and selection and have adapted to it which drives down demand. Ironic and frustrating given our geography.

                                1. New Deal is the best for freshness. The owner's son is very friendly and knowledgeable. I also like Courthouse down the street. Has anyone tried Fernandes Fish Market near Inman Sq? I've lived near there for years and keep going back to New Deal.

                                  1. It also bears mentioning that the "Whole Foods" stores in Alton's show have been specially re-arranged and stocked with extra goodies -- so it may be unfair to compare your local market with Alton Brown's fictionalized vision of what a supermarket seafood counter should look like.

                                    1. Stopped in at Wulf's today based on this.

                                      I picked up some nice lump crab to mix up my imitation of the Abe & Louie's crabcake which I had been craving since that post, and the meat was great.

                                      Otherwise they had the typical stuff, previously frozen shrimp (I really wonder why we can't get decent head-on shrimp here? usually at the Chinese places, but the western markets never carry them for some reason, anyone know why?). Cod, haddock, sole, salmon. I was looking for a swordfish or perhaps tuna steak, and though they looked ok freshness-wise, they had not been cut well at all so skipped that.

                                      FWIW they did have fresh sardines AND shad roe and I consider that to be a good sign. Also some other good whole fish.

                                      Anyway, most of the markets here really are missing some of the more interesting items. I assume it's the fault of the typical consumer in this area....so for those of us who want the unusual we need to make special trips. But wouldn't I just love to see fresh prawns or perhaps live crawfish or some shrimp with pedigree, like "gulf of mexico white or brown" (I missed the Maine pink srimp season this year, it went by in a flash, sniff).

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Zatan


                                        About 3 weeks ago I was shocked and very pleased to find Gulf shrimp on special at Whole Foods. They were so firm and delicious. I just boiled them for a couple of minutes and made my own cocktail sauce. What a treat! Maybe they'll offer them again if they sold well.


                                        1. re: Zatan

                                          Well, number one: look at the other businesses on that stretch of Harvard Ave and revise your expectations of finding good shellfish at Wulf's accordingly.

                                          Number two: the general consensus, with which I sadly agree, is that Wulf's is nowhere near what it once was in terms of quality. At this point, I think it's actually in many ways worse than the fish counter at the Packard's Corner Star Market.

                                          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                            Hmmm, good point, though they seemed to try to feature their clams, lobster, shrimp....

                                            I was being fairly kind though, the place did not truly impress me though it seemed to hold promise. Looked a bit like the little seafood place I go to in Wellfleet when I manage to get there in the summer, but a bit tired.....when I asked for 1.5 lbs. of medium shrimp, and they did not have enough on display, one guy went in back to get more, and the other said "they should be in a can in the back left" or something to that effect. Hmmmm, did I hear that right? I bought them anyway.

                                            I haven't been to the Star Market in Packards, Corner, I usually completely avoid buying fish at the usual groceries except for Whole Foods, which has consistently good stuff. They are where I would seek pink shrimp, and glad to hear they have other gulf shrimp (sometimes at least) too.

                                            I used to live in Wellesley and Capt Mardens always had great stuff, but too hard for me to get to, need T-accessibility from Brookline.

                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                              Honestly, nonsense, Wulf's make no pretense of being kosher, and non-kosher jews are some of the most adventurous eaters around.

                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                The first part of that was meant primarily as a joke. However, the fact remains: Wulf's has been on a long downward trend for many years now.

                                          2. For those of you north of Boston I suggest giving Twin Seafood in Reading a try. We've been buying fish there for the better part of 2 years now and everything has been the freshest and in season. If you want a particular fish phone first and inquire. They are very helpful and will suggest a decent substitute if what you want is unavailable.
                                            Twin Seafood of Reading Inc
                                            589 Main St
                                            Reading, MA 01867
                                            (781) 942-5855‎

                                            BUT - I urge all of you to acquaint yourselves with the appropriate seafood to buy in this northeast region. There is a valid reason to buy sustainable, ethically caught seafood.
                                            Here's a link to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch for the New England area:

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Gio

                                              I like New Deal and Courthouse but in general find Captain Marden's in Wellesley the most consistently excellent. Brighton WF is ok, Wulf's has been hit or miss to me and less good than it was years ago. My problem with Super 88 is I don't know where the fish is from but I've bought live fish there and been happy, including bass and lobster.