Cheap Eats

There’s a cornucopia of culinary bargains to be found in the Valley, and we’re here to help you track them down

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Cheryl's Fried Fish & Soul Food fish & chipsThe fish and chips dish at Cheryl’s Fried Fish & Soul Food

Cheryl’s Fried Fish & Soul Food

24 East Main St., Middletown

The deal: Fried fish and the mini menu

I used to cook big fish fries for fund-raisers for my church in Warwick and make a lot of money,” recalls Cheryl Santiago. “Everyone kept saying, ‘You should do this for a living.’ ” After she lost her job in the entertainment industry because of the faltering economy, Santiago decided to do just that. In 2005, she opened this little cafe, dispensing not just her famous fried fish, but also many of the homey dishes she’s been feeding her family for years.

“I inherited my ability to cook from my grandmother,” Santiago announces. “She was from St. Croix, and she was a fantastic cook. She got up early, took her bath, and cooked all day. I was a big conversationalist, so I’d sit in the kitchen so I’d have someone to talk to. Her skills must have gone into me.”

Grandma’s influence shows up in Caribbean soul food like curried goat and oxtails

Santiago’s husband, Julio, is a contractor who transformed the floorless, empty shell on Middletown’s Main Street into a neat, simple eatery. “I’m passionate about seeing people enjoy my food,” says Santiago. “I’m getting such a diverse group — people come from Poughkeepsie, from Monticello, from every direction.”

Cheryl’s Fried Fish & Soul Food collard greens and chicken

Cheryl Santiago, chef and owner of Cheryl’s Fried Fish & Soul Food, with the mini fish plate (with mac and cheese and collard greens)

Cheryl Santiago

Prices are good to begin with, but the new “mini menu” — lighter (but not skimpy) portions of regular menu offerings — has proved a real success. It features the crispy fish sandwich, wings, curried chicken and the like for $5.50, or heartier items like smothered pork chops or barbecued ribs for $7.50.

Naturally, fried chicken is a big seller. (“Freshly fried when you come,” notes Santiago. “Not sitting for who knows how long — that’s when it becomes greasy.”) Grandma’s influence shows up in Caribbean soul food like curried goat and oxtails. “Oh my goodness, oxtails run out the door — people get four dinners at a time,” Santiago says, explaining her recipe (sort of): “They’re broiled to get the fat off; then they go in the pressure cooker, which tenderizes them; then when they’re almost cooked I do all this other secret stuff.” Sides like mac and cheese and seasoned collard greens “are to die for,” she declares, while the blackened salmon steak ($11 for a full order) has proved a surprising hit with the young crowd. “They can’t get enough of it.”

» Next stop: Cave Mountain Brewing Company, Windham



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