Lobster Roll Craze, Starting in Chicago

At times I go through craving spurts. As of late, seafood has been my constant addiction and I am the last person to say that I tire of it, especially with so many options to please the palate. However, my thoughts have been more focused on lobster rolls. I blame part of that on having read a prior post I had written about Devon Seafood Restaurant and remembering the lobster roll I had there. So, I wondered if there were any small restaurants that had lobster rolls on their menus. Yes, there are and I made entries on my calendars to check out three that were not far from where I live.

Note: If you sample from any of the restaurants I mention in this post or from any seafood restaurants in your area, and you get a lobster roll in your grasp, indeed show the restaurant some love. For those on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, hashtag lobsterrollcraze (#lobsterrollcraze) and give the restaurant’s name.

New England Seafood Company

My first seafood excursion was at New England Seafood Company at 3341 N. Lincoln Avenue. It was late afternoon and before the after-five crowd, and it was even more surprising to see a constant flow of individuals coming in and out. I ordered a bowl of lobster bisque and a bowl of clam chowder for starters. I had fasted for 20 hours for a doctor’s appointment and so I was very close to having a Suarez moment. (Anyone who has been following World Cup will get the reference.) The bisque was a lobster bisque addict’s bowl of heaven. It wasn’t smooth like the usual bisque because it was full of shredded lobster. The clam chowder had chased away my final Suarez craving and left me wanting more, but I had to save room for my main reason for coming to the restaurant.

New England Seafood Company Collage

The lobster roll was so wrong, so very, very wrong because nothing as good as the lobster roll I had should be released to customers. Stuffed to the point where lobster was falling out of the bread, I tell you no lie when I say that I dragged out working on that lobster roll and homemade chips to an epic 45 minutes. I didn’t want it to end. When I was done, I sat looking pensively until the server offered a chocolate chip cannoli and coffee, of which I accepted. After a good report from my doctor, I deserved it.

Da Lobsta

At 12 E. Cedar Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast is Da Lobsta. Several times I have gone to the location in the French Market, which is in the adjacent depot station to Ogilvie Centre. At the French Market location, I had been going so much that the staff working there knows me by face and that means I get rated-10 lobster rolls while everyone else gets rated-8. Okay, that’s not proper and I should be ashamed of myself. (Laugh track) For a blog write-up, I decided to go to the Gold Coast location and I was quite happy I did.

Da Lobsta Collage

The lobster bisque at Da Lobsta is smooth and creamy when initially set in front of you. Don’t be fooled, for after you stir it, you see chunks of lobster swimming around in it. If you are like me, you’ll smile before scooping it up and trying not to dribble it across the front of your shirt. It’s New England lobster bisque, for sure. And the clam chowder, albeit not thick in a creamy way, is definitely worthy ordering a cup. But their lobster roll is where you’ll develop a constant yearning. There is a combination of shredded lobster and chunks. You’ll understand why you get a fork with the sandwich and if you think you’re in a dream while indulging one of the lobster rolls, you will not want to wake up. If you get there when the staff is handing out samples of lobster mac and cheese, do not decline. Take the sample. You’ll probably order some for take-away.

Fish Bar

My third excursion was at Fish Bar. At 2956 N. Sheffield Avenue, this boutique seafood restaurant has the look of a bar, but it’s all about seafood and a good selection of wet bar offerings. The beauty of this restaurant is that the staff is upfront and personal — not as in being in your personal space, but as in being like great friends. They don’t just tell you their names as a courtesy, but they ask for your name and address you accordingly while you’re there. One would have to be anti on a personal level to not fall in love with that kind of service. But you’ll be blown away with the food regardless.

Fish Bar Collage

I had a cup of clam chowder that if I had some bread with it, I would have sopped the remaining chowder without pause or complaint. The gumbo had a roux base that I favour because there was no skimping on the okra. The person responsible for the recipe had to have gone to some restaurant shacks in the eastern parts of New Orleans because they got it correct. Where I had to pause and smile my usual stupid smile when food is good was with the lobster roll. There were chunks of lobster in the lobster roll, although they will cut the lobster up more if requested. But you really know you’re indulging a delicacy when the lobster bursts when your teeth pierce the chunks. And with them adding cumin to the homemade mayonnaise, I sat and pondered ordering another one for take-away. I waited for an hour and had a crabby patty — crab cake slider with a dusting of bread crumbs covering a serious clump of meaty crab — instead. However, I am still thinking about the lobster roll and how I felt some kind of way after it was all gone.

Some may inquire about a ranking and it would be unfair. Each restaurant prepares the lobster rolls differently, which gives each their individual charm. Now that I have put them out there, perhaps you can post back letting it be known how you’d rank them. I gave three boutique seafood restaurants. There are some big box restaurants that prepare some lobster rolls worthy of telling your Facebook and Twitter friends. I bet there are also some walk-ups and small seafood cafes doing the same. Get your lobster rolls craze on.

New England Seafood Company Fish Market on Urbanspoon Da Lobsta on Urbanspoon Fish Bar 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