My friend Mary has been going to Ted’s Fish Fry since the 1960s. Sheryl joined me for lunch and reminisced about getting takeout at her office in the 1980s and bringing her boys, now grown, in the 1990s. In a remarkable feat of oversight, I’d never been to a Ted’s in all the years I’ve lived here.
So Sheryl and I went, and we can tell you, Ted’s runs a tight ship. At least at the Clifton Park location, which is undergoing renovation. Short story: spotless, reasonable price, courteous staff, delicious food. Now let’s get to the details.
Some background: Ted’s Fish Fry is an American Dream story. Ted Deeb’s parents emigrated from Lebanon, and Ted worked hard at various independent ventures until he hit on an open-air fruit stand. He converted it into a snack bar, then moved to Third Street in Watervliet and opened the first Ted’s Fish Fry in 1949. The rest is history.
Today, son S.K. Deeb is the president of the company and runs it with the help of his son, Bill Deeb. There are seven locations now; the latest opened on Western Avenue in Albany in September 2020. It’s the only location that serves wine and beer.
The Clifton Park location is right smack on the side of Route 9, with a giant red sign near the highway. You might tell my phone, and Sheryl’s, too, as they both took us to the neighborhood right behind Ted’s parking lot. We could see it on the other side of the fence. “Is the Garmin girl playing games with us?” asked Sheryl.
We arrived at lunchtime and though the sign on the door asked us to forgive them for the construction, we entered a gleaming white restaurant with vibrant red trim. Booths and chairs are black. Everything looks new. No construction dust.
Ted’s menu is heavy on fried food, as you’d expect, and adds burgers ($2.60), Helmbold’s mini hot dogs ($1.45), Buffalo versions of favorites, and chowders. Add $4.75 to any item for fries, coleslaw and medium drink. Big Ted’s Seafood Combo ($17.45) has fried shrimp, clams, scallops and fish. Desserts are prepacked cookies and cakes.
We were greeted right away as we examined the menus on the fancy large screens and the employee was ready to take our order the minute we decided. He turned and gave instructions to the crew in the open kitchen. In very short order we were headed to our table, red plastic trays in hand.
The kitchen’s right there, behind the counter and stack of plastic bakery trays filled with buns. And here’s the thing: It was all business in the Ted’s kitchen. Once the order was given, the employees got to work until they were done. No drama, no fuss.
We settled into a booth, and Sheryl got us ketchup and straws from the spotless condiment station. There were several other groups spread around the dining room; with windows on three sides, it’s a sunny and cheerful place. We gazed longingly at the snow-covered picnic tables.
“Aren’t these good?” asked Sheryl, sliding over her paper boat of onion rings ($3.50, small) for me to try. The onion rings were tangly, crumbly and delicious, with bits of browned onion showing through in places. The coating, a special house recipe, incorporates cornmeal and is very crunchy.
I examined Ted’s signature fish fry ($10.90 for the lunch special including fries, coleslaw and a medium fountain drink), golden browned and sprawled the length of the tray. Its bun looked scanty, like a way-too-small bikini. “How do I eat this?” I asked.
“You break off the end,” Sheryl said, demonstrating in the air, “and dip it in the chili sauce.” I broke. It came off in a neat chunk, revealing enormous white flakes. I dipped. The red chili sauce has peppers, not meat, and other things I usually won’t eat, like pickles. I loved them, both fry and sauce.
“Look at these big flakes,” I said, showing off the inside. I couldn’t finish it, and left most of the roll, too.
The fish fry coating also includes cornmeal, and has enough structure to hold the impossibly light and flaky fish together until you bite.
We both liked the fries — they’re all business. No seasoning, no coating, no skinny shoestrings. Just straight-up potatoes, arranged neatly next to the fish fry. We added salt and happily dunked in ketchup.
Sheryl had a fish taco ($3.50), about half the size of a fish fry, she estimated. The breaded fish sat atop a bed of fresh lettuce and chopped tomato, and was topped with sauce she called “spicy Mexican.” Ted’s calls it chipolte cream. All good, she decided.
The coleslaw, she thought, left something to be desired. It was a bit dry.
My lunch special came with a medium (quite large in real life) fountain drink. Sheryl had a small milkshake ($4.15), vanilla. She passed it over; it was sweet and frosty, with strong vanilla flavor. Yum. More dessert than beverage, at least for me.
The tab for both our lunches, aside from the few bucks that went in the tip jar, came to $23.59.
But wait, there’s more. Husband Eric weasels out of the companion job unless it’s a fancy joint, so I didn’t consult him when planning my visit.
“Hmm, Ted’s?” he mused, thinking back to the days he worked at the Lansingburgh Boys (now Boys & Girls) Club in college. “I haven’t been there in ages, but I’ll take a hamburger and chocolate shake.”
I drove to the nearest Ted’s at dinnertime and picked up the order, along with a small cheesecake ($4.25) and a cup of clam chowder ($4).
Mealeo takes care of deliveries, and you pay the same premium if you order online and pick up at the store. Ted’s said to call the store to place your order. You can skip the line when you pick up your food. But they recommend eating in: The food is best eaten fresh.
“It was better a half century ago,” said Eric of his cheeseburger ($2.95). Part of that is nostalgia, I think. The other part is that they forgot the cheese.
However, the New England clam chowder had plenty of chopped clams, was creamy and tasted good, he said.
The shake, Eric said, was “Nice, delicious, sweet. I like the chocolate syrup at the bottom.” And, “just as good as I remember.”
It’s that time of year when you might not be eating meat. You won’t miss it at Ted’s.
So many decades, so many fish fries. They were good then, and they are good today.
“You’ll be back,” said Sheryl, over our lunch. She’s right.
Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected].
Ted’s Fish Fry
WHERE: 1663 U.S 9 Halfmoon; (518) 373-8300; tedsfishfry.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sunday
HOW MUCH: $23.59, with a few bucks in the tip jar
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. ADA compliant. Children’s menu. Parking lot.