Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
You know, I think I should really start a feature on Serious Eats about restaurants that surround prisons. I've already covered Micky's Chicken and Fish and Coco's Famous Deep Fried Lobster, both across the street from the prison facility on South Clark Street in the Loop. I ate a sandwich from Americana Submarine that's on the nearby corner, too. This isn't to trivialize the seriousness of the prison, but there's something hilarious about the nickname "Prison Chicken."
So going down the line of restaurants on that stretch, I had to check out Shark's Chicken and Fish. It's yet another fried fish and chicken joint on that block—the competition must be like that of titans and gods! Plus, it's next door to a pawn shop that has its own TV show; in fact, the day I visited, there was a line of people waiting to get in so they could possibly get on television. I considered trying to pawn some chicken wings, but getting kicked out of a pawn shop on my lunch break didn't seem like a good idea.
One of the more popular items on the menu is the fried catfish dinner ($8.49 for small). It features cornmeal-crusted fried catfish, along with fries and a tiny container of coleslaw. Out of most of the items I tried, the catfish came out on top. It's crunchy, meaty, and mild, without too much of the muddy flavor I associate with poorly cooked catfish. But be careful—there are bones. I took one for the team on that one.
There are three types of chicken wings on the menu, and I started with a regular order of six chicken wings ($6.99). In a fistfight, Micky's jumbo wings would win by a knockout, but Shark's wings fall into the "decent" category. They're a bit chewy, a bit dry, and they're dusted with a tangy salt and pepper mix (it's the sandy looking dust on top).
Normally I dislike crusted chicken that's coated in sauce, because the crunchy breading gets soggy, but I actually ended up preferring the honey barbecue wings ($5.99 for six) much better. The clingy sauce is sweet and on the tangy side and adds needed moisture and flavor to the meat.
Skip the buffalo wings ($5.99 for six). They get soggy in a bad way, and the buffalo sauce doesn't bring nearly enough moisture back to the chicken.
My insatiable curiosity got the better of me at Shark's, and I had to order the fried liver and gizzard combo ($7.99). I love chicken liver when it's cooked correctly; it can have a soft, nearly creamy texture, with that distinct, almost metallic funk to it. Shark's livers have more funk than George Clinton on a three day bender, to the point where they are nearly sour. Avoid them. Just get a full order of the gizzards instead. Gizzards are typically pretty chewy, but in this case, most are tender without too much connective tissue, though there's a few gristly ones in the lot. Or, if this entire paragraph grossed you out, then don't order either.
Shark's also carries pizza puffs, one of my favorite guilty eat-in-a-closet pleasures. But a taco puff ($3.69 w/fries)?! I've never seen one before, and my innate childish curiosity got the better of me.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it's not much different from a pizza puff. It just has a very slight grocery store taco-kit flavor to it along with the greasy, gummy, bread. It's good for a one-time "what the f*ck is this" experience, but I like regular pizza puffs better.
The jumbo fried shrimp dinner ($9.99) always seems like a decent option, but steer away from these. I've never had shrimp that tasted so strongly of iodine. The aftertaste is alarmingly strong and all of my coworkers who tried one made the same face and ran away, shouting unintelligible things at me.
If I had to summarize the entire Shark's Fish and Chicken experience in a few words, I'd say this: Get the catfish, honey barbecue wings, gizzards, or maybe the taco puff. Also, there's a pawn shop next door with a TV show. Also, prison.