Sarasota, FL (WWSB) – Sarasota fishermen are nearing the end of an era.
For 43 years, George Nodaros has been a champion of traditional cuisine, smoking mullet on countless Saturday mornings for his eager clientele. His method is an old-fashioned style rarely seen in modern Sarasota.
Fishermen smoke freshly caught mullet for hours at dawn on Saturday mornings, using bulk smokers purchased more than 30 years ago. The recipe is simple, consisting of salt, pepper, paprika and patience.
It’s a lot of work, but for Nodaros, it’s worth coming back every year.
“It’s something I enjoy,” he said. “It works like anything else. You get nothing for free, but I enjoy it.”
For decades, his passion paid off. Every Saturday from July through his December, he starts selling fish right outside his home.
Some of them have been swinging for lunch for decades. John Esola, who is a fisherman himself, said the fish his friends cook is a special reminder of the past.
“If you want mullet, it’s the best smoked mullet in town,” said Esora. “It’s old school.”
There are few ways fishermen smoke mullet, Nodaros said. It used to be commonplace, but the technology has faded over the years.
“They just don’t put the time and energy into the process of getting it right,” he said.
It’s a lot of work. Nodaros says mullet should be smoked for at least four hours without being overcooked, until it is tender and juicy.
He spent countless hours standing in front of the gigantic machine, feeling waves of smoke blow into his eyes when he opened the lid. Every attempt to eat is rewarded.
“For 43 years they don’t stop,” said Nodaros. “They come every week from July to December.”
Our crew saw first-hand the enthusiasm as they stopped one car after another while talking to Nodaros. Each driver had cash in hand and walked away with a smile.
But his culinary fans are eager for change. Shortly after, Nodaros said he was closing down his smoker for the last time, saying his age had caught up with him and it was too difficult to keep going any longer.
He expects this year or next year to be his last season.
All good things must come to an end, he said, but it’s not easy to walk away after dedicating so much of your life to work.
“I feel like I’m letting my customers down and I’m about to cry. I never want to do that. They’re all nice people. I love them to death.”
Still, there is hope for Sarasota’s mullet lovers. Nodaros is talking to some of the young family members who may take up his mantle by learning to cook fish the same way he’s always done and working on a tried and true business.
He wants to hand over the spatula, but he has some advice for those who want to continue his legacy.
“You’re not going to get rich out of this,” he said. “Making other people happy is just a pleasure. That’s what I enjoy. That’s it.”
Nodaros offers smoked mullet every Saturday morning from July to December. The fish is cooked in front of his house at 3020 40th Street in Sarasota.
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