Suit up and dive into this inside look at all things sweet, smoked and savory at Ivy City Smokehouse.
Earlier this year I had an awakening — a smoked salmon awakening. It started out simple enough: In April I was assigned to tour Ivy City Smokehouse with photographer Scott Suchman. Not wanting to miss out on shadowing a photographer I highly respect, I jumped at the opportunity.
When entering the facility, the smell of the ocean permeated the space. We proceeded to suit up with coats and hair nets. Settling into the chill of the factory, Suchman began to set up his light equipment and shot two opened bins of suspended fresh salmon floating in marinades.
Following the salmon’s journey, we made our way to the smokers. As Suchman opened the door to the smoker to get a shot of the smoke billowing out around the racks of salmon filets, my throat and eyes began to sting. Not lasting more than a minute with the smoke, I stepped away behind a partition and chatted with co-founder Greg Casten about his commitment to sourcing quality salmon from Chile while Suchman continued to snap away.
Casten recalled the moment he knew he wanted to start a smokehouse after visiting Ivy City Smokehouse co-founder Ron Goodman at his Goodman’s Deli in Potomac, Maryland.
“Ron had me taste his in-house smoked salmon and I loved it,” Casten says. “After that, I always wanted to smoke my own.”
Both Goodman and Casten have been in the business of sourcing and selling fish since the ’80s. For the last seven years, smoking salmon together has exceeded their expectations. They currently sell 400,000 pounds of products annually.
As we weaved through several rooms dedicated to different steps of the process, there was care and attention to detail everywhere we went. This can be credited to smokehouse master Jesus Bercian who runs daily operations. Employing only 22 people, a mother-son duo joke and swap stories as they scale, debone and filet the fish before heading to the smoker where it can stay anywhere from 1-15 hours depending on if hot smoked (shorter) or cold smoked (longer). Once the salmon is smoked, it is carted to another room where a team of workers slice it before a machine packages the product.
Their four in-house products — traditional cold smoked salmon, peppercorn hot smoked salmon, honey smoked “candy” salmon and smoked tuna whitefish salad — are all sold daily in their market attached to the facility in Ivy City, and customers can also enjoy a smoked salmon platter upstairs at their Ivy City Smokehouse Tavern.
It was at the tavern that I had my first sample of all three smoked salmon products. Casten prepared a toasted bagel, slathered with cream cheese and piled high with their classic smoked salmon, tomatoes, briny capers and red onion. As I took my first bite of the bagel with the works, I instantly was smitten with the salty smokiness, yet balanced freshness that was Ivy City Smokehouse salmon. Casten continued playing with different combinations of toppings (cucumber and cream cheese with candied salmon, peppercorn hot smoked salmon with tomato, and a drizzle of horseradish) and handing them off to Suchman and me to try.
Since that experience, I have become hooked on smoked salmon. I crave and order it at least once a week at different cafes when working remotely or at brunch with friends. While I’ve ventured into other smoked salmon brands, I still prefer Ivy City Smokehouse. So much so that when I can’t find them at my nearest Safeway or Whole Foods, I make a pilgrimage to their Ivy City market and stock up on a variety of packaged smoked salmon before driving home to Northwest. I never regret the trip.
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