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Forget the Fish Fry

These restaurants offer alternative Lent-friendly seafood plates for the Catholic in all of us.
Wednesday Feb 13, 2008.     By Benjamin Andrew Moore
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

A whole red snapper looking up at you

Lenten season, when all Catholics are cruelly forced to eat steak and other unholy meats only six days out of the seven-day week, has officially begun to religiously rain on everyone's parade. Fortunately for you, on that seventh day—Friday—you'll be able to eat all the fish you want instead. The following restaurants offer some offbeat seafood choices if you're tired of the same old, boring fish fry.

Whole red snapper at El Barco
El Barco offers a massive menu that favors the flavor of fish over the typical Mexican staples of beans and meat. Play it safe with the mahi mahi tacos ($9.99) or go all out with a whole red snapper topped with garlic sauce ($18.66), a fish that literally stares at you with its sullen, sunken eyes until the moment you devour it. The best thing about El Barco, though? With its sea-blue walls and hanging plastic swordfish and sharks, the notable nautical decor will almost convince you that you're actually under water.

John Dory at Blue Water Grill
The Blue Water Grill is as sleek as they come, with an atmosphere and style that casually combine old-fashioned class with uber-modernity. And on every Friday during Lent, it'll offer a seafood special of roasted John Dory—also known as St. Peter's fish—with braised baby fennel, tomato confit, Taggiasca olives and Ligurian olive oil for $28. If the Biblical significance of the fish means nothing to you (old St. Peter is said to have brought the fish to God himself), the deliciousness of it should do just fine. Mmm, tastes just like religion! Or fish—whichever you prefer.

Seafood po' boy at Local Option
Seafood po' boys might not have religious significance, but at Local Option they taste so good, you might break the First Commandment and start worshiping them. New Orleans-style French bread—crunchy on the outside, soft and soothing on the inside—comes topped with your choice of fried oysters, sea scallops, shrimp, calamari or catfish, each hovering between $8.50 and $10. If you've given up bread for Lent, opt instead for Lauren's Local Salads, which come with the same seafood selections in addition to ahi tuna and grouper.

Salmon burger at Keefer's
There are all kinds of "burgers" these days: tofu burgers, turkey burgers, veggie burgers and even burgers made of Frosted Flakes (hey, it was summer, and I was bored). Keefer's, on the other hand, has opted to cover the seafood burger angle with a grilled salmon burger, served on a pretzel bun and topped with cucumbers, tomato and onion for $15.95. Best of all, it tricks your brain into thinking you're eating real meat when all your Protestant, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist friends around you actually are. Too bad they don't make seafood rib-eyes, huh?

Seafood pizza at The Silo
When you think of "seafood" and "pizza," you probably think of anchovies—that is, if you grew up watching the Ninja Turtles like I did. For many, the mere sight of anchovies leads to involuntary gagging, but not all seafood pizza is automatically repulsive. On the contrary, this North Shore pizzeria discovered long ago how to make seafood pizza better by using a blend of more-bearable fish and crustaceans—like snow crab, pollack, shrimp and white clam sauce. The rich 'za makes for one amazing meal, or you can share a pie as a starter and move on to entrees, like a crab- and broccoli-stuffed baked potato or linguini with vodka sauce (booze is allowed, right?).


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