Back in the seventies and eighties, the Roost was my special place. In those days, I worked in the Roland Park area, and "discovered" Lake Trout, which everyone called it, during lunch hour drives to get my car washed near Reisterstown Road and Cold Spring Lane. From there, I'd drive north on Reisterstown Road, park, and then stand in Lake Trout's long line where more often than not, I was the only Caucasian. After about fifteen minutes, my lake trout sandwich along with whatever sides I ordered, usually collards and cabbage, or beans, was handed to me in a brown paper bag through a window along the inside counter. The sandwich consisted of three to five breaded Atlantic whiting between two pieces of white bread wrapped in aluminum foil. The vegetables were in 8 ounce plastic containers. While at the counter by the window, I'd open the bag, lift the aluminum foil, remove the top piece of bread, and then pour hot sauce out of a plastic gallon container all over the fish. Next, I'd open up the two plastic containers and douse the vegetables. After that, it was off to Cylburn Park. Upon arrival, a ravenous appetite regularly prompted me to attack and consume lunch without even getting out of the car. First I'd pitch the bread, rendered soggy with hot sauce, in order to remove the backbone from each fish. Frequently during this process, bits of crisp whiting particles escaped down the side of the seat. It helped feed the car wash habit, which helped feed the Lake Trout habit. This became a way of life.
Then, last week in the Baltimore Sun, Andrea K. Walker wrote a researched and informative article about Lake Trout in conjunction with its recent closing.
Nostalgia beckoned me to the scene. While I was walking around the parking lot with a camera, a young man in a maroon car pulled up to inquire as to my business. Once comfortable, he informed me that he was Gino Brown, nephew of Lake Trout's late owner Doris Williams. He had worked here for years cleaning fish, even after the passing of his aunt. Then one day when he arrived for work, Lake Trout was closed. Ever since, he's been a stay at home dad. He posed for a photograph in front of Lake Trout's glass door.
As we talked, I recalled how great the sandwiches were, even on Mondays when there's little reason to expect that fish purchased anywhere will be fresh. Where did you get them, I asked? He told me they were delivered from Reliance Seafood at the Jessup Wholesale Fish Market. Since Gino cleaned the fish, I asked him to describe their eyes. Were they clear? Did they protrude? Did they look milky? "Just eyes," Gino replied.
More than ever, I'm convinced the secret was in the batter.