We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: anchovies are pretty great. For instance, where would the Caesar salad be without ’em? Anchovies remain one of the most unused ingredients in most kitchens. Yet despite this lack of appreciation, Neill and Renae Holland—founders and owners of Brooklyn’s Bon Chovie—have leveraged the anchovy as the biggest little fish in the deep blue sea. They serve them up every Saturday at Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea’s new food market on the Williamsburg waterfront.
RH: Well, we both wanted to start a food business, so we started looking around the New York food scene to see what was out there to try something that maybe no one else had thought of yet. We settled on anchovies because we both love them and we both feel they are definitely underserved.
NH: What she said. There’s also some history of commercial fishing in my family and Renae, being from Seattle, lived in close proximity to the docks. Fish was a pretty easy choice.
I see you’ve ditched the little tin cans. How do you serve them?
RH: Fried, of course—though we can’t take all the credit for the idea. The idea actually came from a friend just after returning from a trip to Portugal. He had mentioned that fried anchovies are a pretty common offering all over Europe.
We included anchovies on our list of pantry items every man should have, do you have anchovies in your pantry?
NH: Definitely. We meet a lot of customers who are grossed out by the taste of canned anchovies, most of the time because it’s what they remember from their childhood. That curing process that goes into canning is what gives them the strong taste. When it comes to Bon Chovie, we only use fresh fish so the taste is much less intense, and people like that.
What are your top 5 pantry items that you can’t live without (besides anchovies)?
RH: Hmm. As the self-proclaimed queen of the kitchen, I’ll take this one. I’d say sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, fresh garlic, chicken stock and some decent olive oil.
So where can you find fresh anchovies in New York?
NH: Good question. At first, we thought it would be simple. We quickly learned though — after hours of scouring Chinatown, Staten Island, and Jersey — that simple was more like simply impossible. Not even gourmet food markets in Manhattan carry the little guys. Then we got lucky.
RH: To be honest, we could tell you where we get our anchovies from, but then we’d probably have to kill you. What we can tell you is this: even though we found a hookup, getting them still isn’t easy…but when your only shipment comes in at 2 a.m., there’s no excuse: you just have to haul ass to the source, wherever it is.
The issue of sustainability is huge right now. Do we need to worry in this case?
NH: They are actually very sustainable. When we came up with the idea for Bon Chovie, the fact that anchovies are sustainable was more of a bonus…it helped reinforce the idea.
Bon Chovie is clearly a play on Bon Jovi, what’s the story behind that?
NH: Renae was in a heavy metal band a couple years back while living in Seattle so when I threw out the name, it kind of stuck immediately.
RH: Besides being in a rock band, I was an audio engineering and recording major in school and moved to New York, initially, to work in the industry, so a name like Bon Chovie essentially combines my two passions: food and music. Trust me, we tried a whole slew of other names that ended up sounding kind of boring and lame that didn’t make the cut.
Anchovies: Love ’em or leave ’em? Sound off in the comments.