I hope to feature local, the one-of and the stand-alone places where you can get delicious “faster” food perfect for a summer meal on the go.
Places that are a bit gritty and have a history.
Places that my parents and grandparents ate at and enjoyed.
Places that have a reputation and a following of people that appreciate the “real deal” in “real” fast food.
This week, my travels took me to Calumet Fisheries located on the west bank of the Calumet River on east 95th Street just about a mile from Lake Michigan.
When I read the sign in the store: “This is our one and only location. We have no other stores”, I know that I had found my first true candidate for my “fast food Friday” series.
According to their web site historical facts, “in 1948, brothers-in-law Sid Kotlick & Len Toll opened Calumet Fisheries. Their dream was to serve the freshest, tastiest fish on the South Side. 60 Years later, Calumet Fisheries is still run by the Kotlick-Toll family.” I was interested to taste and see if they still served the tastiest fish on the south side.
Calumet Fisheries sits in a part of Chicago that is somewhat less the picturesque. The strictly take-out restaurant is housed in a small, squat white shack-like building with a red shingle roof with signage that fills one wall sits next to entrance to the rust-colored 95th Bridge that is covered with random graffiti. Across the street to the north are the rusted remnants of structures of past industrial glories.
Down the hill behind the shack, across the river is Crowley’s Yacht Yard where you can admire beautiful boats in dry dock and watch the occasional boater in their spiffy new cruisers powering their way up river into Lake Michigan.
Yet after a minute or two of studying the setting, I realized that this unobtrusive fish shack is in a perfect place to do what it wishes to do…serve no frills food with the best taste.
In spite if the gritty industrial setting outside, Calumet Fisheries is clean and pristine in side. When I walked in all I could smell was the wonderful fragrance of really, really fresh fish with a delightful hint of smokiness.
I enjoyed a warm welcome from Carlos Rosas that was more than happy to show me the smokehouse directly out the kitchen door, explain the smoking process, the sources of the fish and seafood and artfully arrange the beautiful smoked salmon, trout and shrimp in the cold display cases so I could photograph them. Merci beaucoup, Carlos…!
As I spoke with Carlos, I noticed that there were many framed photos, posters, magazine covers and news items hung on the walls that documented the history and the fame that Calumet Fisheries has had over the years. The most recent of which was a signed poster from Anthony Bourdain when he was here with his crew filming a spot for “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel.
I found it interesting Calumet Fisheries has been in business since 1928. The building used to be on 92nd Street, but many years ago it was carried three blocks downriver by a scow and now sits at the foot of the 95th Street Bridge. Trivia buffs with note that this is the bridge Dan Aykroyd jumped off at the beginning of “The Blues Brothers” movie.
How cool is that…?
After my tour and a round of many photos, my order was ready.
As there is no seating in this take-out only spot, many customers eat right in front of Calumet Fisheries sitting right on the curb or in their cars to devour the frsh fishie goodness ASAP...!
I took my delicious smelling grub across the 95th Street Bridge to Calumet Park and found a spot to park near Lake Michigan. The brown paper sacked smoked salmon, shrimp and trout and the fried shrimp dinner made for the perfect feast that I set out on the front seat of my car. They were indeed my perfect table setting without a white linen cloth, the smokey sweey fresh fish aroma was as fragrant as from any 4-star joint and the lake kindly provided the perfect ambiance for a seafood meal with a location that would be any restaurant designer’s dream.
The fried shrimp had a crispy cornmeal like coating that was very crunch, well drained and not at all greasy. The crust kept the shrimp inside warm, firm yet creamy and had a slight hint of peppery spice and made each “ca-runchy” bite quite heavenly.
I enjoyed a tasting all of all my smoked items, but decided to re-wrap them and store them in the cooler that I had brought to enjoy later for dinner.
Although I do love my horseradish and tomato based cocktail sauce, I have to say that I enjoyed the thinner hot sauce for dipping that they provied, not only the fried shrimp, but on the smoked shrimp and fish, as well.
As I drove back home, the smokey fishy aroma clung to my finger even though I had washed them with some of my bottled water. It took some will power to stop myself from munching on them as the smell was truly enticing.
The term “finger licking good” may have been made popular by “The Colonel”, but I have to say it fits appropriately for the food from Calumet Fisheries.
I will return very soon for smoked fish, as I am promised smoked chubs and whitefish.
If you are craving wonderfully fresh fish, smoked with the sweetness of cherry wood and white oak, your palate will be richly rewarded for your efforts to arrive at this gritty outpost of real fast food eateries.
I urge you to pay Calumet Fisheries a visit.
3259 E 95th St
Chicago, IL 60617
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