After fire destroyed the Go Fish seafood market and sushi restaurant in West Reading, Berks County, last year, owner Heather Clark took her time rebuilding.
Over 18 months, she gutted and repurposed a former Sinking Spring flag factory that dates to 1900, expanded her menu to include more entrees and added an extensive drink list. And to do it, she borrowed quite liberally from Lancaster County’s thriving food scene.
The new Go Fish, located a block off Route 724 at 301 S. Hull Street, Sinking Spring, is powered by three food and beverage pros who built their craft at well-known Lancaster establishments.
There’s executive chef Michael Savitsky, most recently of the French-themed Bistro Barberet in downtown Lancaster. Executive sous chef Steve Kemper earned his chops with two years at Rooster Street in Lititz. Beverage director Arthur Bellocchio spent the last two years crafting special occasion menus for Excelsior, Lancaster city’s historic events venue.
They all had done stints at Bistro Barberet, and a group friendship developed over the last four years. That cohesiveness has led to a new restaurant connected front to back with a menu unified around core flavors, a propensity for experimentation and a vibe that Bellochio calls “subtle highbrow.”
“Berks County isn’t in the same place when it comes to the food scene, so we thought we could bring a little Lancaster flair,” Savitsky says last week, about a month after the restaurant opened.
“Everything is made from scratch,” says Clark, who noted that every entrée is new, though some of the original restaurant’s unique sushi rolls made the move. “Every dish has its own starch, and there are a lot of moving parts.”
A few early crowd favorites have emerged. The crab cakes here are done with a classic French prep, but Savitsky created a raw shrimp puree that serves as a binder. Once cooked, the crab takes on an extra depth of flavor, complemented by pickled jalapeno and a lime tartar sauce. The grilled octopus and parchment-seared halibut with butternut squash and truffle vinaigrette are also popular.
Local sourcing is one obvious Lancaster influence here.
Kemper had an existing relationship with Wyomissing-based Dundore & Heister and helped convince Clark to add meat to her menu for the first time. Now, Go Fish diners can feast on D&H bone-in strip steaks or pork belly (which also stars in the “tantalizing piggy” sushi roll). Pekin duck from Jurgielewicz farm near Hamburg is also featured, as are Italian imports and European specialties from Russo’s Market in Wyomissing.
“We’re hoping to become a real neighborhood gem,” Bellocchio said. “But we’re also trying to keep the dollar here in the city or the county.”
Of course, the biggest challenges are getting customers to try the new location, which is a little more off the beaten path than the first outpost on West Reading’s Penn Avenue, and creating loyalty.
Part of that will fall to skill, such as elevating a plate of tuna tartare with careful knifework that creates ribbons instead of a mince. But just as much will depend on inventiveness.
Here, Kemper’s appreciation for molecular gastronomy will come into play. Already, there’s an ouzo foam accompanying some dishes, and he is toying with a soy caviar that would offer vegans a fun texture option.
Both the Go Fish menu and drink selection will change every 90 days or so to reflect seasonal flavors.
“We’ll do drinks that are more comforting for winter and a little more refreshing for summer,” Bellocchio says. “That constant evolution will be something that draws people back.”
Bellocchio is a Level I sommelier and is studying for his Level 2 exam.
He personally selected the wine list, developed recipes for several mocktails and found new twists on classics, such as using Japanese Toki whiskey in an old fashioned and adding pinot noir caviar to the “Manhattan After Dark.”
Cocktails are not inexpensive. Each is handcrafted using simple syrups and bitters (think grapefruit and walnut) made in-house by Bellocchio. Beers on tap are displayed on a large-screen TV, including the restaurant’s first collaboration. In the vein of Lancaster city restaurant Luca’s partnership with St. Boniface, Go Fish teamed with Shillington’s Schaylor Brewing Co. to create an in-house brew called Real Big Fish.
The bar and a nearby raw prep station are the focal points of the narrow, 80-seat restaurant. Edison lightbulbs strung throughout the main dining area highlight original hardwood floors and plenty of exposed brick.
It’s a long way from Go Fish’s 2005 start as a fresh seafood market at the Fairgrounds Farmer’s Market in Muhlenberg, Berks County. Clark added the West Reading location in 2008, keeping the dining area small and casual and closing at 7 p.m. Eventually, she expanded to a second level, added seating and hours. She had just acquired a liquor license when a spontaneous combustion of dirty laundry caused the fire leading to $250,000 in damage in March 2018.
Clark contemplated leaving the restaurant scene and focusing on the market. But she’s happy friends and fans convinced her to recommit.
“We have a great, loyal following, and they helped keep the Go Fish name alive,” she says. “We had the time to get creative and experiment with things for this location.”
And now that Clark, Savitsky, Kemper and Bellocchio have found their confidence, one restaurant may not be enough. The team will keep its eye on a potential Lancaster venue as it considers long-term strategy.
“Really, there’s no bona fide seafood location there,” Bellocchio says. “It’s a niche that could be filled.”