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Foodservice Forum: Boston’s Daily Catch-North End a tight fit and long wait, but compensates with great Sicilian seafood

by Christina DiMartino | November 10, 2011
Theo Freddura, manager of the Daily Catch-North End in Boston. (Photo by Christina DiMartino)

Get to the Daily Catch-North End restaurant on Hanover Street in Boston by early evening or you’ll be waiting in a long line to get in the door. The 20-seat restaurant is a scant 250-square-feet, and the exposed kitchen takes up about half of that space, leaving no standing room. It’s lacking in décor and the only notable wall art is the colorful chalkboard menu, yet the Daily Catch is so popular that it is packed by about 6:30 every evening. Some tables are so small that they barely accommodate a plate (or frying pan) of food and a (plastic) glass of wine.

The Daily Catch does not take reservations, is cash only, doesn’t have a bathroom and it doesn’t serve dessert. What the 30-plus year established restaurant does do is serve up some of the finest Sicilian seafood to be had on this side of the Atlantic.

Theo Freddura, one of seven brothers, oversees this location of the family restaurant business, which also has locations in Brookline, MA, and at the Boston Seaport.

“My dad, Paul Freddura, started the business at the North End location in 1973,” said Theo Freddura. “The original Daily Catch was a fish market that had a bar where people could sit and eat from a limited menu of fresh seafood dishes.”

With parents who emigrated from the province of Ragusa in Sicily, Paul Freddura was raised with strong Sicilian food traditions that included a lot of fresh seafood.

About eight years after opening his business, Mr. Freddura met his future wife, Maria, who was studying at Boston Architectural College. Once married, she took to her husband’s business quickly because her father was in the restaurant business and she was also of Sicilian decent. With Maria on board, the business began to change.

“They opened the restaurant in Brookline next, and over the years they opened about 15 locations in the Boston area as well as in Alexandria, Virginia,” said Mr. Freddura. “We have since narrowed the business down to the three restaurants, which all do an outstanding business.”

Roasted Sicilian eggplant with crabmeat, marscarpone, marinara and basil oil. (Photo courtesy of Basil Freddura)­­

The seaport location, which opened eight years ago, is the largest of the restaurants, and it serves as the company’s headquarters. It seats 125 people on the patio and 100 inside. It also has a private dining room for parties and events. A 16-seat bar was added to the restaurant during a recent redecorating project.

“We hold the Boston Food Festival on the patio, and it is used for local beer tastings,” said Mr. Freddura. “The patio has also been used as the backdrop for a couple of movies, [including] ‘The Departed’ ... and ‘My Best Friend’s Girlfriend.’“

During the 1980s and 1990s, the company also cleaned and prepared fish to sell to other restaurants and retailers in the Boston area. Mr. Freddura said that many “business angles” developed from this service, such as retailers selling the Daily Catch’s sauces.

The Bread & Circus retail store, which was bought out by Whole Foods, bought prepared foods from the Daily Catch. The restaurant was even shipping its calamari salad to customers in California.

Four of Theo Freddura’s brothers are involved in the restaurants, and the other two are still in school.

Chef Basil’s homegrown tuna tartar and lemon cucumber salad with Asian scallion slaw, black olive oil and crispy carrots. (Photos courtesy of Basil Freddura)­­

“My brother Basil is the executive chef for the company,” said Mr. Freddura. “He attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales. Max, another brother, is the front-of-the-house manager at the Boston Seaport location, along with another brother, Sage, and my mother.

“Basil is also a passionate fisherman,” Mr. Freddura continued. “When he brings in a catch, we put it on the menu. Just recently, he caught a 42-pound striped bass that served about 20 people.”

Sebastiano, another brother, is a waiter in the restaurants and he helps in other areas when he’s needed. He also is a music entertainer in his spare time. Louis Freddura is studying at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and the youngest Freddura brother, Dominic, is in high school. Both work at the restaurants in their free time.

Paul Freddura’s three sisters worked in the business over the years, along with their mother, Theo’s grandmother.

“My Aunt Connie is 72 years old, and she still waitresses two shifts a week, grinding it out for us,” said Mr. Freddura.

Besides overseeing the North End restaurant, Theo handles most of the marketing tasks for the company. He aspires to open a Daily Catch in California in the future.

“It would mean my moving there, but my family would be visiting all the time because they love it there,” he said.

Crab and pumpkin bisque with creme fraiche, fresh sage and squid ink toast. (Photos courtesy of Basil Freddura)­­

With traditional Sicilian food as its menu backbone, the Daily Catch sources a lot of fresh tomatoes, mostly from local produce distributors like Fleet Fruit in Boston’s North End. When fresh produce is available locally, the company utilizes whatever it can.

“We also maintain a nice garden of our own,” said Mr. Freddura. “We grow arugula, purple carrots, heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers and other items, as well as a lot of the herbs that we use. Our garlic is an heirloom variety from California because we prefer the flavor. We buy it peeled because we go through so much of it, and we go through a lot of fresh parsley. Tomatoes are used for salads and sauces, and we need high-flavor field tomatoes that are big and juicy. Heirloom tomatoes in the summer months are always a staple on our menus. Peppers and onions are also integral to our dishes.”

The Daily Catch restaurant menus offer special fresh produce side dishes, such as broccoli rabe or arugula when they’re available. Mr. Freddura said that the seaport location, because of its large seating capacity, offers more grilled-vegetable dishes like asparagus, zucchini and eggplant on its menu.

One of the shorter lines of customers waiting to eat at the Daily Catch North End in Boston. (Photo by Christina DiMartino)

“We really like working with pumpkin when it’s in season,” he added. “Pumpkin soups go very well with seafood. We’re all about Sicilian seafood and pasta. The fish we use — with the exception of shrimp and salmon — is all fished in local waters. Our goal is to provide people with perfect Sicilian food every day of the week.”

The Daily Catch-North End has a mutual agreement with Caffe Vittoria, a popular pastry and coffee house directly across the street. Daily Catch patrons are sent there to use the bathroom facilities. Caffe Vittoria benefits in return from the agreement because the Daily Catch does not serve dessert. It sends patrons across the street for some outstanding sweets and coffee.