The Accidental Foodie goes to Calumet Fisheries.
Oh boy, I love smoked fish. It's not that hard to make, get some fish, fire up the smoker (really any type of grilling device set on lo) and wait a few hours, Hey Presto, smoky love from the sea. In fact I think it's so easy, that I would never consider buying it. I suppose I have become jaded, I see those golden smoked beauties in the cold case, and I feel like someone is trying to sell me a $20-dollar-a-pound secret that I already know. Well sometimes I'm told to put down my tongs and take a spin on the merry-go-round. And man what a ride.
When someone says "fisheries" in Chicago, the person means a place that serves fried fish of some sort in a bag with fries and hot sauce. Calumet Fisheries is a little bit different in that they also offer fish smoked on the premises. We made the trip up to 95th ST, on a bright Sunday morning. We met Carlos who was working the counter and Ray who was tending to the smoker. They weren't too busy so they happily talked to Bonne Femme and me about what they do and showed us the smoker out back.
If for no other reason you should visit just to see the brick smokehouse. Perched between the store and the river, it is truly a relic of the past, no electric stainless steel chambers, just bricks, smoke and fish. The fish is hot smoked for about five hours with a mixture of hardwoods. Ray split some wood to give me an idea of the different aromas from the different woods.
Ray brines the fish before smoking, he said he would be happy to tell me the recipe if had had one, he does it all to taste.
Back inside Carlos offers a sample of the smoked shrimp. Yum. We get to talking, he reveals that he went to culinary school at CHIC, Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. After getting his certificate he went to work at the casino down the road, but he didn't like it and came back to Calumet. All the school talk started making the boys antsy, Carlos asks me what I would like.
"I dunno what's coming out of the smoker?" Little did I know Bonne Femme was one step ahead of me, outside:
She zeroed in on a piece of trout and a piece of salmon with pepper and garlic.
We got a shrimp dinner for the boys, they ate it all. The smoked fish doesn't come as a meal, you have to take it home and make your own magic. Smoked trout rillets maybe?
When You Visit:
While this part of town is remote, it is by no means intimidating. It is more industrial than anything else, on the other side of the bridge is one of Chicago's largest boat yards, Crowley's, they have a very nice ship's store. The bridge spans the Calumet river, not the Chicago. Calumet is also the name of the geologic region that starts roughly at 95th ST and stretches around the bottom of the Lake all the way to Michigan. There's a great book by Kenneth Schoon called Calumet Beginnings, that has a history of the area.
3259 E 95TH ST
Chicago, IL 60617
Parking for Calumet Fisheries is on the street, and there are no tables. They are open 7 days 10am-10pm. Check it out.