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Standing Room Only: Snappy's Shrimp House

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Snappy's Shrimp House

1901 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60613 (map); 773-244-1008
The Short Order: Excellent fried fish sandwich and fried oysters.
Want Fries with That? Skip them and go for a side of hush puppies.
Seats? One high-top, plus a counter along the window.

Though you'd be forgiven for not knowing, Chicago is home to a thriving fried shrimp scene. If you don't believe me, check out this very good Tribune article for an introduction. Luckily, you don't need to know that much about the history to enjoy the actual shrimp. Just make sure to arrive hungry, as some of the best stands in the city freshly fry the shrimp by the pound, from seafood-centric spots like Calumet Fisheries and Hagen's Fish Market to hot dog joints like Red Hot Ranch and 35th Street Red Hots.

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Which means we have standards. So if you're going to call yourself Snappy's Shrimp House you better know a thing or two about frying the little crustaceans. At first, this relatively new restaurant in North Center doesn't look the part. Clean and open, this is one of the more inviting stands I've been to in a while. As the sign suggests, most orders are for carryout, though there is one high top and a counter by the window, which is where I set up.

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I went with a 1/4 pound of fried shrimp ($4.60) and was heartened to see signs around the shop proclaiming that only wild Gulf shrimp is used. Unfortunately, it's hard to taste much of anything under the thick and crunchy crust. Sure, it's tasty batter, but it's kind of missing the point. Sort of like how the crust on fried chicken should combine with the meat to create a "cosmic oneness," the best fried shrimp have little to no separation between the crust and the meat. But here you can cleanly pull off the coating and toss it aside. Luckily, this isn't the only fried offering at Snappy's.

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If you want an example of the fried arts done right, instead go with an order of the fried oysters ($3.00 for four). The oysters are very lightly coated and only cooked for a short amount of time, so they stay juicy enough to burst open when you bite in. (Note: make sure to let them cool for a few seconds before diving in.)

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Also very good are the golf ball-sized hush puppies ($2.00 for ten), which come with a golden interior that teeters slightly on being too dense. But all of that is forgiven thanks to the side of honey butter that lends sweet coating to each bite.

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I have to admit that I ordered a sandwich solely because the Chicago Gluttons told me to, and I try to follow their advice as much as is legally allowed. Though draped with one of the least melted pieces of cheese ever thrown between two slices of bread, the fish sandwich ($5.00) managed to rise above usual fish fillet crowd. Obviously, any good fish sandwich requires a properly fried fillet, and this one is crispy and right on. But it's probably the bun that sets this sandwich apart. Toasted but still soft, it holds up to the deluge of condiments, while never losing its shape. This is one totally solid sandwich (except, of course, for that unmelted cheese).

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Just to try something un-fried, I also ordered the shrimp wrap ($7.75), which loads rice, lettuce, tomato into a wrap with boiled shrimp. Actually, the shrimp are cooked ahead of time and then warmed on the griddle, a process that isn't exactly ideal. Still, they are sweet and tender, and when combined with the crisp lettuce and tart sauce, it adds up to a decent sandwich, albeit one that pales in comparison to the fish sandwich.

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I still don't know how I feel about Snappy's. Can you love a place that isn't great at cooking its main ingredient? Because I feel like just about everything that comes out of the fryer, except the shrimp, is worth ordering.

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