Being from the Deep South, I've forever had an affinity for all things fried. Doesn't matter what it is (meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, chocolate gravy, you name it), just coat it in flour and toss it in oil, and I'll happily devour it (especially if there is some icy cold ranch dressing or a slather of oily mayo involved).
One of my favorite places in town to get fried food is the adorable little dive bar on Webster called The Local Option (formerly The Local Shack). I adore it mostly for its anonymity (it looks like any old hole in the wall upon first glance and you could easily pass on by), but I love it even more for its small back room that substitutes as a New Orleans-style takeout fish shack.
The blazing red dining area leads to a quaint outdoor patio and shares space with an open kitchen that slings up some of the best fresh fish po' boy's, peel-and-eat-shrimp and crab cakes that I've had. And I've been up and down the Bayou (this, along with half the world, is one of my favorite road trip areas).
What makes this place so perfect? The portions are huge (no way could you finish one sandwich, I couldn't even finish one half of a sandwich), the ingredients are fresh as can be (even the black bean and corn salsa served with the quesadillas is homemade) and the food is just different enough to make me crave it.
Instead of the standard quesadilla, the shack puts a Southern spin on it and takes big chunks of jumbo Maryland blue crab, sautes it and stuffs it into thick flour tortillas with a surprising mix of goat cheese and cilantro. The cute waitress went on and on about the black bean and corn salsa that is served on the side and she was right (I love when the staff is bubbling with excitement about certain dishes), it was delicious. The goat cheese (which can sometimes be overwhelmingly tart) was barely distinguishable, and I'm thinking these perfectly crisp puppies are fried up in a huge pile of butter. That has to be why they're so mouthwatering.
Without a trace of fishiness, the crispy, fried Mississippi catfish po' boy sandwich is incredibly tasty (the fish must be flown in on a daily basis). The best way to go with this monster is to toss on some melted provolone and skip the tangy red sauce. Instead, ask for a spread of the Creole mayo (who knew mayo was this good?), scoop off some of the shaved cabbage, and rip off the top bun. Make it an open face sandwich…there's just so much crusty French bread that I can take when trying to get to the meat of the sandwich. The fish is so tender and thick (it really doesn't look like the standard yellow-cornmeal-fried catfish that curls up at the ends), and is more of a chubby filet.
This is bar food at a whole other level and brings the Bayou straight to the city streets of Chicago (if you don't fly past it, that is).
THE FINAL RAVE: The sides are superior, as well. Make sure to get an order of the mayo heavy, fresh dill potato salad and the crispy fried green beans. An almost fluorescent green color, they are best eaten with your fingers. Come to think of it, so is the whole damn meal.
KEEP IT GOING:
Read It: Heaven on Seven
Take your time with this Cajun menu. All of the food pops and so do the delectable desserts; there's no way you can go wrong.
Drink It: Lawrence's Fisheries
Yah, you can BYOB at this South Side river dive. The fried fish sandwich is small enough so that when you eat three in a row, there's really no guilt. Oh, and keep the BYOB on the down low, like the rest of the folks sippin' from their flasks do.
Eat It: Snappy's Shrimp House
The fish is fried, the shrimp is fried and hushpuppies are a meal unto themselves. Prepare to stand and wolf down the paper bowl full of goodness is less than one minute flat.
Get Crazy With It: Taste of Chicago
All the finger foods that you could imagine in the world. Bring lots of napkins; it's really all you can do.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.