Chicago Day 3 – No Reservations

I’m a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. And that’s an understatement. I think the guy is incredibly funny and he’s just so honest. It’s hard to someone who pulls no punches, especially in the world of food and entertainment. So when I started to do research on Chicago, I remembered seeing an old episode on Tony’s show: No Reservations. It was as good a place as any to start, and what better footsteps to follow in, than my idol’s?

Since I had already booked Avenues, our one ‘classy’ meal was taken care of (read: no more room in the budget). So that meant L20 was out. However, Calumet Fisheries was something that stood out above the rest. Smoked Fish? James Beard Award? Anthony Bourdain Approved? Hello – Sign me up!! There was only one glitch: Calumet was in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t plan to drive, so spending what could possibly be a 1/2 day getting to one meal just didn’t seem feasible. I filed Calumet away, but that didn’t stop me from researching about it some more. And that’s how I stumbled upon EatADuckIMust. They had a great feature of the little Smoke Shack and I was sold (mostly because of their great photography).  Since I was in the market for some new equipment (I just dropped my old D50 and it was pretty much sent out to pasture), and wanted to learn how to take a proper photograph, I reached out to J & A.  They immediately came forth with a tonne of information on photography and food in Chicago (probably more than I could possibly absorb, or fit into my schedule), and I was trying to soak in everything I could. They are amazing people and I definitely recommend checking out their site.

A & J crazily offered to drive E & I to Calumet to chow down on some smoked grub. I couldn’t believe they were so generous to complete strangers!  I really didn’t want to impose, but they were insistent on showing us a great time (because they’re just so awesome that way), so I couldn’t really pass up great smoked fish.  When Saturday rolled around, we all piled into J & A’s car and made our way to Calumet Fisheries.

Calumet Fisheries

3259 E 95th St
Chicago, IL 60617-5160
(773) 933-9855

The place looked so much smaller than I expected. It was a tiny little shack with a tiny shed out back that smokes hundreds of pounds of fish each week. Talk about efficiency! We met and chatted with the owner.  He was a great guy and he talked about the history of the little shop and how his father and grandfather would have been so proud of the James Beard Award they were given just this year.  He was so nice and he remarked at how much of an impact J & A’s blog made to his business (“Everyone comes in asking for Salmon collar nowadays!”). P.S. I am also now a firm believer in the magic of collar.

J ordered a couple of pounds of smoked shrimp, some fried oysters, a chunk of salmon steak, a couple of salmon heads and some colas (RC – my first time!). We grabbed the food and headed out back where another fine Calumet staff member showed us the smoke house and explained a bit about their process.

Some of these guys have been doing it for so long that they can just look at the fish and its drippings and know when it’s done. There’s no recipe: Just skill.  They use oak wood to do their smoking (a first for me. I’m more familiar with other types of woods being used), and it’s all done in that little shack at the back of their store.  The soot from the smoke covers every square inch on the interior, and the door itself was replaced only a few months ago (only to be covered with a thick layer of flavourful smoke in no time).  He spoke of the qualities necessary for a fish to be ‘smokeable’: fatty, tasty and without too many loose bones.  Chub was mentioned a few times, and me being as curious as I am, asked what a chub was. At that time, he generously went back into the store and grabbed me a juicy, chubby chub. He carefully filleted it, and removed a tender morsel for me to try. Wow. Wow, oh wow, oh wow. I’m a huge smoked fish fan, and this was some of the best I’ve ever had (it gave Russ & Daughter’s smoked Scottish salmon a run for its money). The only thing I regretted about my trip was that I had held out from taking medication for my cold (I was stuffy, congested and basically miserable and without a sense of smell for a full day). I could barely smell the smoke (even when I stuffed my head in the smoker. At that point, I should have run to the nearest drugstore and shot my body full of decongestant, but my silly anti-medication stance foiled me) on the fish, but I knew the fish was soft, sweet and moist. E loved the fish. He loved everything he put in his mouth that day. I could only taste sweetness. I was depressed.

We noshed on the smoked salmon, the salmon head (my favourite – it was so moist, it was almost dripping) and the fried oysters (which miraculously kept their crispy exterior even after our 20 minute discussion about the smoking process) by the side of the road. I was as happy as a clam. E couldn’t be happier.  J & A certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves as well (J headed in afterward to pick up some more for a family get together later that weekend). My fingers dug furiously at the cheeks and near the gills of the salmon to get at the tender, juicy flesh. I sucked on the bones of the chub and the skin of the salmon to get as much flavour out as I could.  The plump oysters burst in my mouth as I bit into them, shattering their crispy exterior.  They were probably some of the juiciest oysters I’ve had in recent memory.  But most of all, I was happy to see E having the time of his life – munching on everything we had bought (fed 4 for $60!) and he’s usually not one to get his hands dirty.

Calumet Fisheries is definitely worth the detour (if you have the means of transport). They’re a little gem in the middle of nowhere. They have a great product and their prices are more than reasonable for the calibre of food they’re providing. Thanks to J & A for sharing this with us!

4 Responses to “Chicago Day 3 – No Reservations”
  1. Jared says:

    mmmmh smoked fish…. you should check, they might ship to Boston. Nice write up and pictures. You are a seasoned Pro at this blogging.

    • Thanks Jared!! I’m trying to learn from the best :). I’m running back and forth between Ed’s computer and mine (he has photoshop, I have lightroom), but I’m sure I’ll sort out a system soon enough. Thanks for all the help and the tips. I’ll look into Calumet’s shipping. 🙂

  2. Britt says:

    Looks delicious, that one in the glasses looks like he owns the place. Gotta go their quick before that other man eats all the food. I’d fire him if i was the owner, you lose money by just feeding that guy.

  3. LOL! He was a super nice guy though. He gave us a tour of the smoke house and taught us about smoking and the business in general. Yeah, you should head there! The smoked fish is amazing! Get the salmon head!!!

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