Three years after it closed, Devin’s Fish & Chips has reopened in Harlem, one of the seafood cafes and carryouts that have been staples of the neighborhood. These cafes usually offer fried or steamed shrimp, scallops, flounder, and whole porgies, but the signature is often the whiting sandwich: lightly coated with flour and cornmeal and fried to an agreeable brownness, served on white or whole wheat bread, and dressed with tartar sauce and vinegary, Louisiana-style hot sauce.
When I reported on the availability of whiting sandwiches in Central Harlem in May 2014, eight places produced them; now four of those have closed. (The best remains open: Famous Fish Market, 684 St Nicholas Ave.) One establishment not included on the list was Devin’s on the edge of Sugar Hill, then around 13 years old. That’s because a severe fire in the kitchen had closed the restaurant a few days previously, on April 22, 2014. It had been one of the most popular fried fish cafes in Harlem.
The place is as great as ever. The outside is strung with pennants and the inside remains almost as before: A long narrow kitchen on one side parallels a counter seating area that runs deep into the interior. The fixtures are all new, and the two owners, Anthony Robinson and Debra Salichs, presided; she in the kitchen, he greeting returning customers.
First on the menu and designated “fish sandwich,” the whiting sandwich is superb: three crisp filets fried to perfection, heaped on two slices of bread — for $6.50, a bargain. I also ordered corn on the cob, which was boiled to order and served plain, as part of a healthy panel of the menu that also included steamed okra, broccoli, and squash. Additionally, I got some of the excellent square, floppy fries.
The menu is expanded somewhat from one I have from 2012, with a couple more big feeds, such as three fish filets, four jumbo shrimp, three scallops, and chips for $16.50; more vegetables; and prices a little higher than before. But with new bistros, Italian restaurants, coffee bars, and other upscale establishments popping up in Harlem, it’s something of an urban miracle that Devin’s has reappeared.