Signature Dish: Nothing fishy about seafood bisque at Terry Hills in Batavia

Gene Hewitt, chef at Terry Hills Restaurant, sells about 40 gallons of his seafood bisque each week and draws diners from Buffalo and Rochester just for the signature dish. (Rocco Laurienzo/Daily News)

BATAVIA — The seafood bisque at Terry Hills Restaurant, 5122 Clinton St., is so good, people from all over Western New York will come in just for a bowl. Or maybe a quart.

But the bisque was never meant to be the signature dish at Terry Hills. In fact, it was a series of happy accidents that made it so.

“It was kind of a mistake,” said chef Gene Hewitt. “I was working in a restaurant probably about 20-25 years ago, and I was doing a party for a bridal shower. The banquet coordinator came into the kitchen and said ‘We’re ready for the soup.’ And I said ‘What soup?’ I didn’t realize we were supposed to have soup.”

In what must have looked like a culinary challenge usually found on the Food Network, Hewitt quickly adapted to make his first batch of his now renowned seafood bisque. Considering he had only a few minutes to crank out a soup for a room full of hungry women and had never previously made a bisque, Hewitt succeeded superbly.

“I had run a seafood Newburg feature the night before in the restaurant, so I scrambled and took the seafood, threw it in a food processor, added some ingredients to it and served it as a soup,” he said. “And the people loved it.

“It was just a last-minute gift from God; I really believe that.”

Another accident happened when Terry Hills opened in 2005. Hewitt began serving the seafood bisque on Fridays as an alternative to the clam chowder. But it became so popular that it replaced the chowder and was later added to the everyday menu. It’s also served for every brunch and buffet and is available by the quart for take-out service.

“It wasn’t going to be on the menu, but people liked it so much, it became the soup of the house,” Hewitt explained.

Preparing the bisque is a three-hour process. The restaurant cooks it in 10-gallon batches that include about 12 pounds of fresh scallops, shrimp and crab mix. Add to that heavy cream, sherry and sugar, as well as a seasoning mixture Hewitt would not divulge.

“It’s not for the calorie-counter; that’s for sure,” Hewitt said, jokingly.

Where the Terry Hills offering differs from a traditional bisque is the chunks of seafood Hewitt leaves in it. A bisque is generally pureed to be smooth. He calls it leaving a little “texture” to the soup. It accentuates just how much seafood goes into the bisque, which is quite a lot.

Despite the amount of seafood in the bisque, it doesn’t have a strong fishy taste, which can turn off some diners. It’s actually pretty sweet.

The restaurant sells upwards of 40 gallons of bisque in a week.

The seafood bisque sells for $3.50 for a cup, $4.95 for a bowl, and $15.95 for a quart.

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If you would like to have your restaurant profiled in Signature Dish, call Lifestyles Editor Matt Krueger at (585) 343-8000, Ext. 2129, or email mkrueger@batavianews.com.