Thirty miles, that’s what separates me from some of the best seafood in the city. Located at 3259 E. 95th Street, you’ll find this fish shop sitting on top of a hill overlooking the manmade canal sitting adjacent to a suspension bridge and across the Calumet Yacht Yard. Cars line up on the near the bridge despite the no parking sign with people coming in from all corners of the city and suburbs. Beside the fishery, you’ll find a little smokehouse where they do their magic with hickory woodchips infusing the signature smokey flavor into salmon, trout, chub, and shrimp.
Celebrating its 62nd year as a family owned and operating business and being named an American Classics restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, you’ll find Anthony Bourdain’s signature on the wall and signs that have probably been mounted on the wall for decades. I saw the diversity of Chicago waiting in line including two Korean women who spoke broken English as well as a mid-40’s biker who ordered $60 of assorted seafood and had never been there before. Calumet Fisheries is one-part Hot Doug’s, one-part Kuma’s and a south side institution.
Pictured clockwise from top-left: garlic pepper smoked salmon, smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked shrimp
While the line for Calumet Fisheries is nowhere as long or deep as Hot Doug’s or Kuma’s primarily due to its deep south location, it’s easy to move in and out of line to take a gander at all of the wares of the house. Garlic peppered smoked salmon caught my eye at $15.59 a pound and I wondered what in the world smoked shrimp would taste like. The possibilities of oyster, frog legs, fried shrimp, or scallops led to sensory overload and I hadn’t even had a bite to eat yet! It very quickly became of question of how much was I willing to spend?
Since some of my friends were running about an hour late, the friends that I arrived with debated eating now or waiting for everyone. We decided on a compromise: we would start off with a snack to hold our appetite steady until the late stragglers. My friends ordered some fried oyster while I decided clam strips would be what I wanted. The man behind the counter joked that they didn’t serve Cubs fans but let me pay for less than $4 for my order. I didn’t know if I wanted a whole pound of smoked shrimp for $20.99 a pound, so I decided to buy just two pieces of shrimp that came out to $2.63. The food came out quickly so we all sped outside to examine our food and get to work!
You won’t any seating inside Calumet Fisheries, creativity and improvisation is a necessity to dine by Calumet Fisheries. While we waited outside for our friends before we ordered, we saw three older men march down the hill down by the riverside to sit on a slab of concrete. For our purposes, we took the easy way out and sat on the guard rail next to all of the cars parked in front of the suspension bridge. The clam crunched in my mouth and the mild sauce put a smile in my face and a perpetual nod to my head movements. I traded some clam for an oyster and we all ate and knew we were eating some of Chicago’s finest seafood. There was a fork for my food, but I found it just as convenient to eat with my bare hands and we were lucky it wasn’t raining or blowing incredible amounts of wind.
After I polished off my clam, I pulled my smoked shrimp out of the bag and dipped it into the sauce. Smoked shrimp was next on the agenda, but first I had to pop off the shell. The jumbo shrimp was worth paying over $1 a shrimp since they were massive and each bite of the cold shrimp tasted like it was cooked on a barbecue grill with that classic smokey taste. It was a pleasant snack to polish off our appetizers and just as quick as the food came out, we did away with all remnants and threw all evidence into the steel drum garbage can sitting outside.
After my friends showed up an hour late, we stepped back up to the counter and made my orders. Indecision started making me uncomfortable, but I got put in front of the line and got a fried shrimp dinner and order of oysters. I waited in another line for my food and couldn’t resist: peppered garlic smoke salmon and smoked shrimp was now coming my way! The guy behind the counter told me Cubs fans can’t order twice and we both laughed about it. $40 later, I had a giant bag of goodies and now we had to figure out where to eat.
We decided on a short drive as far east as we could go on 95th street and ended up in Calumet Park. The fields were massive and cleanly manicured and reminded me of a golf course. We parked and marched with our food down near the water and sat on a ledge while the seagulls edged closer like hungry wolves screeching at us. We could see the Gary steel mills pumping out their pollution in the backdrop, and looked at the gambling riverboat across the lake.
Opening one of my bags of food, I found deep fried shrimp and chomped down on the shrimp. Super fresh shrimp tastes like the sea and it became apparent to me that Calumet Fisheries delivered the goods! I could taste the freshness even after they battered and deep fried the shrimp. The fries got soggy on the way over so I didn’t spend too much time with them. I didn’t eat all of the shrimp since I knew there was way more food I had to eat.
For $15.59 a pound, I wondered if the salmon would live up to its reputation. My first dilemma was how to actually eat the salmon, I didn’t have a knife! A friend told me to grab the fork and put some salmon on the crackers that came with the food. Someone handed me a cracker and it was spectacular. Fresh salmon with hickory chip taste, they left the fish hanging in the smokehouse for a day or two before it was ready. This fish was ready and I was happy eating it. My friends enjoyed trout, fried fish, fried shrimp, fried smelt, fried oyster and everything under the sea.
Lunch began winding down and we were full from our feast of seafood. We fought off the seagulls who swooped down for some discarded shrimp shells. It didn’t rain on us and the seagulls didn’t have their way with out food or our clothes. Days like this make working on the Chicago Bucket List worth it and I can’t wait for my next thirty mile trek to finish off the rest of Calumet Fisheries’ menu.