Deep Fried Chicago: New England Seafood Company
Lucky for me, the deep fryer ranks up there with most-used restaurant implements. From high end to low and everywhere in between, there's never any shortage of fried foods for me to explore. But sometimes wrenching deep fried items from a restaurant's menu can feel like squeezing water from a stone, which makes it especially nice when a restaurant does the work for me.
Enter New England Seafood Company, a recent Lakeview addition that is fast becoming a neighborhood institution for its fresh seafood counter and brisk lunch and dinner service. Save the homemade potato chips and fried calamari that I'll have to save for another day, NESC's entire fried oeuvre is represented simply and definitively in the Fisherman's Platter ($19.95). The overflowing plate arrives to the table steaming, each component given separate, loving attention. It's only proper that I do the same.
Let's work our way up from the bottom. In proper Chicago style, the Fries are skin on, twice fried, and properly salted. And just like my favorites at Redhot Ranch, they benefit from a slight steaming under the seafood's heft. If I could figure out a way to work mustard and onions into this equation... I'm actually going to stop there.
Bacon wrapped, pan seared, or part of a boil proper, I love scallops any way they come. But Fried Scallops may be the best of all. Characterized by a surprisingly deep sweetness, the scallops remain moist and toothsome even after being fried. And while the light batter wouldn't dare get in the scallops' way, its boil-bringing Old Bay crunch is much appreciated.
Featuring the same batter as the scallops, the Shrimp are a delicate and subtle version in a city whose definitive style is crisply fortified behind cornmeal. I'm a fan of both, but I appreciate how cleanly the shrimp flavor here shines through.
New England Seafood Company proudly serves Whole Belly Clams, which unlike their belly-less brethren found at lesser shops, actually feature a strong clam flavor. These appear to be a rite of passage, and for the uninitiated like myself, the first bite is a briny, textural (and slightly sandy) shock. It took the whole meal for me to decide if these really fit my preference, and I may just have to order them again to be sure.
Delicate and milky, the Fried Haddock pulls apart easily and takes well to the lemony, dill pickle-forward tartar sauce. It's tenderness camps it squarely in fork and knife territory. Though it could certainly benefit from a more aggressive pre-battering salting, its biggest issue is the excellent company it keeps. Between the sweetness of the scallops and shrimp and brininess of the clams, the mild white fish tends to get lost in the mix.
As good as their fried game is, with all the lobster rolls, chowder, and grilled seafood I saw sweeping past me, I'm going to have a hard time resisting the urge to diversify on my next stop in to New England Seafood Company. On second thought, one order of fried scallops couldn't hurt. For the table.