*YOUR NEW "FRIDAY FISH FRY" HAS ENTERED THE CHAT*
Updated: Feb 26
Restaurant Highlight: Ancora!
By CHRISTOPHER SURPRENANT
With the Lenten season underway, everyone is wondering where to find the best fish fries Utica. You might have your old favorites, but Ancora! in the heart of Downtown Utica is home to one of the best fried haddock meals in town.
Located at 261 Genesee St., Ancora! is just steps away from the historic Stanley Theatre, and while it’s the perfect spot to grab a meal with friends before a show, and it’s also home to one of the area’s best-kept secrets for fried haddock.
“A lot of people don’t know us [for fish fries], but we’ve got a good one. We run it during Lent, but also other times throughout the year as a special,” owner Dan Loconti said.
I had the pleasure of sharing an Ancora! fish fry with Utica’s Finest Food Tour’s Mikelle Deck, and keep in mind that I said had to share. This fish fry is huge, and it comes on a bed of perfectly golden fries with a dusting of parmesan cheese, along with sides of housemade coleslaw and tartar sauce.
This may sound like your standard fish-fry fare, but an Ancora! fish fry is like none other. The haddock is large enough for at least two people to share. Breaded with a special blend of seasonings, this fish fry’s panko crust is flavorful, crispy, and packs a crunch as soon as you bite into it. Beneath the panko breading, you’ll find tender, flaky haddock that falls apart with the slightest touch.
I need to admit something to you here. I hate fish. Rather, I thought I hated fish. I’ve never had a fish fry that really thrilled me, and I’ve often had rubbery, overcooked fish with a soggy bottom. While I’m not a food critic, I think my conversion to fish fry lover speaks for itself. This fish fry has changed me. I am now a fish fry devotee thanks to Ancora! and I couldn’t be more excited.
If you’re not in the mood for fish, Ancora! offers something for everyone to enjoy. You’ll find selections here that are difficult to find anywhere else in the city.
“The tapas menu is kind of a staple that people come for, along with our seafood paella. That’s kind of our signature dish that people come for,” Loconti said.
Since taking over the restaurant in 2014, Loconti has made it his mission to offer what people look for in Utica restaurants. That means offering dishes that are hard to find elsewhere in the city, but also offering his own version of Utica staples.
“When I took over, we made minor changes to the menu, but I wanted all the Utica stuff that people would come for, like chicken riggies. We put our own spin on it, and it’s probably our most popular item,” Loconti said.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Ancora! is also known for its desserts, particularly their varied selection of dessert crepes. In addition to the crepes, Loconti’s personal favorite is the bananas foster, with creme brulee coming in at a close second.
While many may think of Ancora! as strictly a dine-in restaurant, Loconti and his team can handle private parties, and they also provide off site catering for events up to 100 people. The current Covid crisis has also shifted the restaurant’s business model, and Loconti does a robust takeout business.
“I’m looking at it as a benefit in the future. People realized we can do takeout just as well as dine-in. After Covid is hopefully behind us, we can do both sides of the business.”
Angelica Gilberti has been a bartender at Ancora! for six years, and she treasures the relationships she’s developed with her customers in that time.
“We had a really good following before [Covid] with a lot of awesome regulars who will send their families here. They’ve really come to support us and check on us all the time. It’s really helped us...We knew what they drank and what they ate, we knew where their grandkids were going to college. It’s really like an extended family,” Gilberti said.
At Ancora!, Gilberti makes it her priority to make dining at the restaurant a truly enjoyable experience. From creating a rotating menu speciality cocktails to taking the time to chat and get to know her customers, Gilberti wants her customers to feel comfortable and welcomed during their experience. Of course, Gilberti has her own personal favorites from the kitchen that she gladly recommended to us.
“I love our peartini. It’s a really refreshing take on a traditional drink. I also love our salmon, any way they do it. Any of our seafood is excellent. We have a lot of variety, like shrimp or scallops as a special. Sea bass as a special is also really popular,” she said.
Ancora! offers a unique variety of menu items and cocktails, and it truly has something for everyone’s tastes. Simply put, Gilberti said, “We have so much variety and we’re really mixed with what we offer. Our chefs are really talented.”