As I walk into Calumet Fisheries, a thin man with a whispy grey beard is being handed his order. He’s opted for fried shrimp and a large chunk of smoked salmon. The women behind the counter have wrapped it up in white paper and, in blue biro, have written what’s inside. He’s obviously a regular as they know him by name. “See you Friday, Don,” they say in unison. The white washed wooden building sits deep in Chicago’s southside on the edge of the 95th street bridge. The same bridge that John Belushi and Dan Akroyd jump in The Blues Brothers movie. Completely out on its own, Calumet Fisheries doesn’t seem to be very local to anywhere, yet it has an army of loyal customers. “We never used to see young guys like you down here,” explains manager Carlos Rosas. “If we ever saw someone your age in here, we knew it would be for their mother, or their grandmother.” Things changed a little when Anthony Bourdain featured Calumet on his tv show and now young folk aren’t quite so few and far between.
Whilst I was working out whether to go for the black pepper and garlic smoked salmon, or the smoked catfish, Carlos came from out the back and offered me some salmon cheeks, still warm from the smoker. I picked one up by the crisp pectoral fin, which is placed just in front of the gill. It carried a healthy hit of smoke flavour and the fatty cheek had broken down into a deliciously tender chunk of flesh. Carlos gave me a knowing smile. I ordered both the catfish and the salmon and followed it up with an order of smoked shrimp.
Calumet smoke three days a week and I was lucky enough to have arrived on a Monday as a batch of salmon was nearing the end of its smoking. Carlos took me to see the brick smokehouse that sits just outside the back door of the main building. The smokehouse has two doors and during the 6-7 hour smoke, the doors are opened and closed to control the density of smoke and also the temperature. As I’m taking a look, the bottom door is open to let the temperature drop, but to retain a certain density of smoke. We chatted about the food of Chicago whilst making our way though a large piece of smoked sturgeon. It carried a subtle smoke flavour and had a real meaty texture.
Calumet only offer smoked or fried seafood and regulars take their paper wrapped goods a few yards away to the edge of the 95th street bridge. The thick, flat railings of the bridge make for an impromptu counter on which to eat their packages of smoked and fried seafood. On Carlos’ recommendation, Emma and I decided to take a two minute drive up 95th to Calumet park and ate our smoked seafood overlooking Lake Michigan. Unlike smoked salmon you may be used to in the UK or Europe, the smoked fish at Calumet comes in thick, steak-like slabs. I love Calumet because it’s rugged and has a medium to heavy smoke. It’s a bit of a drive down through Chicago’s south side, but if you have the opportunity to get down there, an order of black pepper and garlic salmon and some smoked shrimp are certainly worth your dollars.
3259 East 95th Street,