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One on One: Jim Filip

Owner/operator, Doris & Ed's

Jim Filip: Owner/operator of Doris & Ed's Classic & Contemporary Seafood Oasis
Fiona Robinson
January 01, 2005

Don’t let the quaint name fool you: Doris & Ed’s is not a shoreside shack serving fried seafood in cardboard cartons. The Highlands, N.J., restaurant is, as its Web site describes, a “classic and contemporary seafood oasis.”

Owner/operator Jim Filip bought the restaurant, housed in a restored 100-year-old bayside inn, in 1978 and has since turned it into a destination point for fine seafood dining. Filip could wallpaper his restaurant with the accolades heaped upon Doris & Ed’s in the past 20 years. The list includes a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence as an “America’s Regional Classic” in 1998, Gourmet’s America’s Top Tables award from 1996 to 1999 and most recently the New Jersey Restaurant Association’s 2004 Restaurateur of the Year award.

Filip is not just an owner on paper — he is the restaurant. He buys all of the restaurant’s seafood at the Fulton Fish Market in New York each week. The menu, crafted by Executive Chef Russell Dare, is evidence of the time Filip spends with his vendors selecting fish. The restaurant’s menu in early December featured 12 entrées, including Fresh Florida Jumbo Stone Crab Claws with a Mustard Dipping Sauce for $38; Sautéed Dover Sole over Carmelized Shallot and Thyme Mashed Potatoes with Browned Caper Butter and Asparagus for $39; and Sautéed Rice Flour Coated Wild Quinault River Sturgeon in a Port Wine and Mushroom Cream with a Warm Crab Tian for $30.

Filip is not just passionate about seafood, he also has an affinity for wine. The restaurant’s wine list, with more than 300 bottles to choose from, has won an annual award from Wine Spectator for the past 19 years.

I recently chatted with Filip about his restaurant and his more than 20 years of experience buying seafood.

Robinson: Have you always done the buying since you bought the restaurant?
Filip: Yes. I’ve owned the restaurant for 26 years now. When I bought it, the first four or five months I used a local wholesaler. At that point and time I went into Fulton because I didn’t like the quality of my products. If I asked for something different, my previous wholesaler would say ‘that’s not available,’ but I knew it was because if I went to Balducci’s or other stores they would have the fish that I wanted. I met some people at the market and I just happened to gravitate to people who knew fish.

So what vendors at Fulton do you buy from?
Crown Fish, Emerald Seafood, Alaskan Feast, Best Buy, Beyer Lightning, Blue Ribbon, F&L Fillet, Lockwood and Winant, and New Seafood. My lobster supplier is Douty Brothers of Portland, Maine, and Highlands, N.J.

The Fulton Fish Market is scheduled to move to Hunts Point in the Bronx next month. What changes do you expect to see as a result?
It’s going to be a better product. [The seafood] will be in a temperature-controlled environment. It will improve the quality of fish in New York City, without a doubt.

The seafood won’t have drastic changes in temperature because trucks will be unloading right at the building. Now most of the seafood is unloaded into the street and taken inside to the vendors.

What do you like best about buying seafood?
I like two things. One, I’m a very loyal customer. The guy I buy tuna from I’ve bought from for 20 years, so I get the best product. Two, if I go to the market and a fish isn’t available, I can make an instant change and bring back something else and my chef has a different item on the menu. If I use a wholesaler, I can’t make that change.

I enjoy it and I get a better product, and it grounds me in the real world.

What input does Chef Dare have on the menu?

The chef usually has a wish list — our menu changes weekly. He might ask me to find really great mahimahi, sea bass or swordfish, so I usually have a few options. Most times we know the market doesn’t have everything every day. He has 99 percent control over what the preparations are, but I do all the buying. The options are endless for me. If someone at the market has something new, then the chef works something out. I try to buy eight to 12 different fish, so that gives me some leeway.

What is a typical day at work for you?
I try to go to Fulton on Thursdays. That’s a good day, because the fish is coming in for the weekend.

I work [at the restaurant] on Wednesday night and I get to bed about 9:30 or 10 p.m. I get up at 2 a.m., drive to New York, get to the market after 3, do my buying and am back at the restaurant between 5 and 6 a.m.

What signature dishes do you have on your menu?
There are four: Grilled Tuna on Wasabi Mayonnaise with Ginger-Scallion Sauce; Sautéed Red Snapper with Rock Shrimp and Plum Tomatoes; Homemade Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with a Jicama-Mango Salsa; and Lobster Bisque. They’re always on there; I would lose half my customers if I took them off.

Aside from buying seafood, what else occupies your time at the restaurant?
I have a large wine list, and it takes a lot of time to manage. I like to give my customer the best seafood, and then I like to do the same with wine. When I bought the restaurant it had a limited wine list, and there were a lot of restaurants around me that had a greater
selection.

Do you pair wine for each menu item?
I will do a wine pairing if the customer requests it. I love to do them, but I’m seeing a switch to people drinking what they like to drink. Five years ago cabernets were huge. Now people are seeing pinots go great with fish — they drink it with a salmon or tuna. I think our customers have changed because of the amount they’ve traveled and the food they’ve seen. Fifteen years ago you wouldn’t have seen sashimi or tuna carpaccio on the menu — you wouldn’t have seen the raw fish you would today.

Describe the competition between restaurants in your area.
There’s a lot of competition for disposable income. We are on the shore where a lot of restaurants serve seafood. I just have to make sure mine is better than anyone else’s.

Business hasn’t returned to pre-9/11 levels. I can see a little glimmer of hope that I didn’t see before. Barring something unforeseen, I think we’ll see a gradual increase in 2005. Business isn’t flat, but it isn’t where it should be. I hear it from my vendors too. I think that’s across the board.

Will you ever turn the buying over to someone else at the restaurant?
Not as long as I own the restaurant. Mostly wholesalers go in [to Fulton] these days. Very few people like myself go and do their own buying. It’s very therapeutic. It puts you in touch with your suppliers and you get to know them and they get to know you. If the seller doesn’t understand my needs, there’s not any way that he can provide me with the quality fish that I really want. Anybody can go buy, but if you don't have a relationship with that supplier, he won't save you the best product and tell you something new that's coming in.

I'm a presence in the market; people know what I buy. I know right away when the first softshells come out in March. Those are the relationships that develop when you do this. I've had a lot of people [from Fulton] come here and eat. They understand what we do.

January 2005 - SeaFood Business

 

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