Deep Fried Chicago: Heaven on Seven
Like Ed Debevic's, Giordano's, and Ricobene's, Heaven on Seven is a Chicago culinary institution of a bygone era. Always packed, the iconic Cajun restaurant where Jimmy Bannos cut his teeth has been all but forgotten by the contemporary food press. After 30 years in business, maybe no one has anything left to say. But when I noticed that just about a third of its menu is comprised of hot oil dipped delights, I was duty-bound to take the elevator up to the hot sauce walled restaurant on the seventh floor of the Garland Building for a taste.
Inserted into the laminated menu as a daily special, the Fried Green Tomatoes ($6.95) arrived to the table mired in a pumpkin-hued Remoulade sauce, heavily garnished with diced bell peppers, scallions, and dashes of paprika. Smaller, younger tomatoes would have served the dish better: these mature specimens had developed woody centers that never completely warmed through. Even more disappointing was the cornmeal breading, which quickly dissociated itself from the tomatoes at the slightest jostle.
The Louisiana Crab Cakes ($8.95 as a side order) should've been much better. Lump crab meat, gently mixed with minimal fillers and binders and fried until crisp in butter, is one of the seashore's simplest pleasures. The deep fried disk garnished with coleslaw and syrupy tartar sauce was not that at all: the uniform texture was reminiscent of canned salmon, and the flavor wasn't far off, either.
The menu features a staggering amount of po' boys, all of which adhere to the same formula: open faced buttered and toasted Turano-style roll, handful of iceberg lettuce, two tomato slices, and your choice of protein. The Louisiana Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy ($13.95) won the day on presentation: this is a whole crab, battered and fried, with not much in the way of its origins left to the imagination. But the Bloomin' Onion style batter easily overpowered the subtle crab flavor. A few dashes of Crystal Hot Sauce saved the day, though.
The Louisiana Catfish Po' Boy ($11.95) was much more successful: the assertive flavor of the fish held its own with the aforementioned batter. My friend had the right idea when she left the other po' boy components behind and enjoyed the fish itself au naturale. I'm going to bookmark this one for next Lent.
So at the end of the day, I get why people have stopped talking about this place. But you owe it to yourself to experience Bannos' 'if-it-ain't-broke' approach at least once. Be sure to order a cup of the gumbo—after one bite, I can see why Heaven on Seven is still going strong after 30 years.
Heaven on Seven