Food | Food Issue 2017

Calumet Fisheries

A no-frills fishery endures the test of time

Christopher Good

Like some of the best restaurants, Calumet Fisheries is famous for being unassuming. It still sits where it has for the last seven decades, with the 95th Street bridge down the road and the scaffolding of the Chicago Skyway downriver. The surroundings have transformed over the years—the shack currently overlooks twin industrial silos—but the same words are emblazoned under the same red shingle roof, and the same fresh catches lie inside.

In an era of health food, Calumet Fisheries is devoid of pretension—no seating, no bathroom, no credit cards, no nonsense. There’s conventional fare: shrimp, chips, scallops. And then there are the Calumet specialties: the catfish, the smelts, the frog legs. All the fish is freshly fried or smoked on site; it remains one of two places in the city permitted to smoke fish over a wood fire.

Manager Carlos Rosas has been with Calumet Fisheries for twenty-one years—it was his first job. He tells me that business waxed and waned during his first few years. But after an upswing through the mid-2000s and a visit from Anthony Bourdain in 2009, the shack has become a local classic. It’s gotten writeups in Vice and Chicagoist, a James Beard award, and at some point, a Wikipedia article.

Foodie trends might be fickle; news coverage comes and goes. But luckily for us, when it comes to Calumet Fisheries’s breaded fish, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Christopher Good

Christopher Good

Christopher Good

Christopher Good

Christopher Good

Christopher Good

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Thoughts on “Calumet Fisheries”

  1. My family is from the South Chicago neighborhood (yes, there is a neighborhood called “South Chicago” on the South Side of Chicago). I’m 65 and my family used to go there regularly for smoked chub and other delicacies back in the 1960’s. By the late 70’s, we all moved away to other points around the US, but I’m still here and I get there regularly. No more chubs, unfortunately. That species seems to be played out. My favorite now is the smoked whitefish. But just going in there and ordering a meal and eating it in your car, or at the bridge while the barges go up and down the river brings back a lot of memories. The food is delicious and the people are like neighbors.

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