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Rick Mahan, the chef-owner of The Waterboy in midtown, first put fish sticks on the menu about 10 years ago on a lark, and since then they’ve come off and gone back on about once a year for a month or so at a time, or “whenever I feel like it,” he says.
But Waterboy regulars know they don’t need to wait.
One such regular is Scott Smith, the general manager at Biba Restaurant and a longtime friend of Mahan’s. Smith says he scoffed when he first spotted the humble-sounding appetizer soon after it made its debut, given the Waterboy’s sophisticated menu filled with elevated fare like oysters on the half shell and veal sweetbreads. Happily, his server talked him into ordering it and he’s never looked back, declaring the delicate finger food “unbelievably tasty.”
For the dish, Mahan uses hand-cut 3.5-inch pieces of halibut (or cod, depending on what’s available) and dredges them in flour and egg before coating them with house-milled panko bread crumbs and frying them.
The recipe has even been memorialized in a 2011 volume of Canal House Cooking—a celebrated cookbook-magazine hybrid—after co-author Melissa Hamilton was wowed by the fish sticks on a visit when it happened to be on the menu.
As for Smith, since turning him into a convert, Mahan sends the dish to his table every time he comes in. It’s “our little table greeting,” says the chef. And now, of course, it can be yours too. $12. 2000 Capitol Ave. 916-498-9891. waterboyrestaurant.com