This is a fish story, but every word is true. It's the story of Nied's Hotel in Lawrenceville, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and is home to the fish sandwich with a cult following.
At the bar, I'm lucky enough to catch big fish Paul Nied, who's waiting to pick up lunch for his wife. There's plenty of history here, perhaps unknown to the many commuters who pass the distinctive Butler Street neon sign that reads: "Nied's Famous Fish Sandwiches."
Founded in Homestead by Paul's father, Ted, the restaurant originally served roast-beef sandwiches and was a regular respite for steelworkers looking for some sustenance along with their shot-and-a-beer. Eight years later, the business moved to Lawrenceville.
Paul Nied poured his first beer at 14, the day after Prohibition ended in '33. After graduating from Duquesne, he joined the Army, and didn't return until after he was wounded in the Normandy invasion. Back home and running the bar for his father, Nied was contacted by his cousin, who was selling fish in McKees Rocks and who suggested the restaurant add a fish sandwich to the menu.
Today, Nied's 10-ounce cod sandwich sells for $5.95. The crispy breading (similar to the crust of a hush puppy) is made from Nickels Bakery breadcrumbs, and the fish is served on a split roll. During an average week, the sandwich swims out the door in a school of 300-400; during Lent, the numbers bump up to 700-800 per week. Nied claims the secret is fresh oil in the fryer, which also produces the tasty fries served on the side.
Jim Nied is the third generation of his family to run the venue; he jokes that his "father has been behind ‘bars' for 75 years now." Jim has made his own mark with the addition of the Nied's Hotel Band, which performs for charity events, and says the trick to staying in business as long as his family has is "to keep breathing."
At 89, Paul Nied explains how it's done: "Be born and raised in the business, don't smoke, don't drink, just take a little wine at Sunday Mass."
5438 Butler St.