Brown Bag Seafood Co — See Food Disappear

Brown Bag Seafood Company

When coming off of the long winters that we experience, it is nice to get outside to see what’s new. When I say that, there is a very strong possibility that some new building has gone up on the landscape in a part of downtown that you may not frequent, some old establishment you may have gone to in the past has closed, and there may be  new businesses opened. While wandering through the new Maggie Daley Park and exiting to East Randolph Street, I noticed a set of new skyscrapers and a certain restaurant marker for a restaurant named Brown Bag Seafood Company. At 340 E. Randolph Street, I had to see what offerings this new restaurant had on the menu.

Spritzers: Ginger with Lemon and Cucumber Mint

Spritzers: Ginger with Lemon and Cucumber Mint

There was the popular Chipotle way of ordering — pick a sandwich, taco, salad, or some other options, and then pick the kind of seafood you want, yada-yada-yada, dabba, dabba, dabba. What caught my eye most was the lobster roll, so I pulled myself out of Chipotle mode and placed my order. After finishing, I sat on the patio and had a refreshing ginger lemon spritzer while I waited for my first order, which was a cup of grilled brussel sprouts and pickled onions. I like brussel sprouts. I love grilled brussel sprouts, especially if they are as appetizing as those at Brown Bag Seafood Company.

Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Onions

Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Onions

Going to a seafood company and not ordering a cup or bowl of clam chowder or bisque is a crime. There was clam chowdah — note the misspelling — on the menu and I had to have it. After the first spoonful, it had become apparent that I should have ordered a bowl of it rather than a cup. Or I should have ordered two cups instead. There was no fancy modification to the recipe, rendering the soup unrecognizable to the palate the way I have had it at some restaurant. Loaded with potatoes and clams, this made my Best Clam Chowder in Chicago list.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

Now, clutch your pearls, your pocketbook, your smartphone, your martini. I can’t speak for anyone else, however, I can say definitively that I have now had the best lobster roll ever. The lobster was a chunks, which was a winner from the looks of things. Seasoned well and in a slightly spicy mayonnaise, not just regular mayonnaise with a hint of some herb along with salt and pepper, I declared loudly on the patio, “Oh my God!!!” I had not an iota of shame. Hello, Best Lobster Roll in Chicago. To make matters even more worthy of loud declarations, the tater tots that came with it were accented with truffle parmesan. By now I had a jar of cucumber mint with gin. And there was a remarkable sunset behind the skyscrapers to the West.

Lobster Roll with Tater Tots

Lobster Roll with Tater Tots

The one disappointing thing about Brown Bag Seafood Company is that there is no location in Logan Square. Yes, I know that sounds self-serving, but there needs to be a location along Milwaukee Avenue between the roundabout and Diversey Avenue. The new spot can have booths and tables inside, as well as outdoor seating like the E. Randolph Street restaurant. The menu looks like there are several options for those with a love of seafood and I shall have to return to try some of the other menu items. In the meantime, I think I shall have to see if there are any other new eateries that have popped up in some part of the city where I have not been in the past year. Brown Bag Seafood Company has won me over, for true.

Brown Bag Seafood Co. on Urbanspoon

Seafood Bonanza, Shaw’s Crab House

Cranberry Juice

Cranberry Juice

For those of you reading this, I hope that you are at home or at some location where the temperatures are not as hateful as the temperatures in Chicago. As much as 2014 promised to be a good year, the Arctic temperatures have been prohibitive for going outside. By now, I would have gone to at least four restaurants and blogged them, but by the time I pack up to leave work during the week, my focus is on going home to get into my sweats and fuzzy bear claws. Yes, I have a pair of those. And the weekends seem to be candidates for sub-zero temperatures and mini blizzards. However, I simply cannot sit inside all the time. During one of my “escape from the cabin” moments, I went to a nearby coffeehouse to edit some photos. After a few hours of productivity, I received a text from a great friend who asked if I was interested in partaking of Chicago’s Restaurant Week at one of my favourite seafood restaurants. Well, with food being a factor, my text response was YES — I typed it in all caps. Knowing that there would be a crowd the closer it got to 7:00 PM, we made reservations for 5:15 at Shaw’s Crab House at 21 E. Hubbard Street in the River North section of downtown.

Bread and Wafers

Bread and Wafers

While perusing the menu for any ala carte options, we gnashed away on cheddar rolls and wafers. Um, um, good. Sure, this comes complimentary with the meal, but is still worth mentioning because the bread must be baked on the premises. You cannot find cheddar rolls like these in the market in the bakery section, on the aisles with aging loaves of bread, or in the frozen food section. Our server gave use a grand explanation of the restaurant week menu. Let’s just say that Shaw’s Crab House knows how to lure its customers back for repeat visits. There was clam chowder for the soup. For the entrées, the choices were king crab legs and Maine lobster. Dessert options were key lime pie, which you can never go wrong with, and a raspberry walnut cobbler. Far be it from us to be dining prudes, we ordered a dungeness crab claw for an appetizer. We also added potatoes au gratin and creamed spinach to our entrée orders.

Crab Claw

Crab Claw

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

The crab claw came to the table pre-cracked. It would have been a chore, quite possibly with things flying about the table. The claw was full of meat, bursting with flavour. Now, granted it wasn’t a substantial appetizer, it was certainly worth the order. For when the clam chowder arrived at the table, it was evident that the remainder of the evening would be based on complete culinary satisfaction. Thank God for restaurants that don’t feel the need to accentuate clam chowder with pork. There must have been complaints from some pork eaters about a few seafood restaurants that left the oink factor out of their clam chowder recipe because, sure enough, it shows up in the bowl at some eateries. Shaw’s Crab House has not fallen victim to that recipe blackmail.

Crab Legs

Crab Legs

Potatoes Au Gratin

Potatoes Au Gratin

Maine Lobster

Maine Lobster

Creamed Spinach

Creamed Spinach

The entrées were divine. The crab legs were full of meat. With melted butter for dipping, that was all we needed to forget that the temperatures in Chicago were in the single digits. It was all about concentrating on cracking the legs, digging out the succulent meat, and devouring it like seafood lovers. The Maine lobster came to the table steamed. Each bite exploded. No tough texture, no unsavoury aftertaste, only bliss. And not being one to let lobster go to waste, when I got to the head, there was a voice in my head that screamed, FINISH HIM!!! I complied. The mushy texture from the head is not something that appeals to a lot of people. It’s a bit reminiscent of marrow, for those of you who have chewed chicken bones to splinters and partaken of the tasty insides of the bones. It may be better used to season some soups or other recipes. For me, if I paid for it, it’s good as gone — unless I become so bitter that I feel the need to throw the plate against the wall. The potatoes au gratin were delicious beyond words. They did not come from a Betty Crocker box. And the creamed spinach reminded me of the spinach artichoke dip that a restaurant named Houston’s used to prepare — before that restaurant closed permanently for business.

Coffee

Coffee

As part of the Restaurant Week menu option for desserts, there were key lime pie and raspberry walnut cobbler. My main New Year’s Absolution was to remove desserts from my diet except for my birthday. So far I have been faithful, with the exception of having a panna cotta at one restaurant. My nutritionist and doctor said that I could indulge sorbet, fruit, and light cream desserts. To keep from possibly getting out of hand, I passed on the dessert and let my great friend take mine home with her. So, she had the pie and the cobbler. I settled on coffee laced with Bailey’s Irish creme. My friend had a regular coffee with cream. Talk about a great wrap-up to a fantastic meal.

Coffee with Bailey's Irish Creme

Coffee with Bailey’s Irish Creme

For years I had gone to Shaw’s during lunch when I worked about two blocks way from the restaurant. Even when I changed jobs, I was always confident that my palate would find satisfaction in all that the menu had to offer. Because Shaw’s is not ethnic, per se, I never blogged it. This time I felt that it was worthy of inclusion on Chicago Alphabet Soup. Now that I am being more serious about sticking to a strict seafood and vegetarian diet, there may be more seafood restaurants showing up on the blog. The service at Shaw’s Crab House was way past outstanding. Any time a server takes time to explain things in a great detail and offer recommendations without a scowl or a need to rush away from the table, the experience is usually a hit thereafter. Not once have I had a meal that I was not pleased with and the most recent dining experience was such a highlight that I was talking to my food and singing. And looking back on all of this, going out in the cold wasn’t such a bad idea. I got my usual food bonanza in the process.

Shaw's Crab House on Urbanspoon Shaw's Crab House on Foodio54