By Richard Deulofeut
Photos By Yasmine Laasraoui
South Side Shrimp, 5319 S. Hyde Park Blvd. Monday-Sunday, 10am-10pm.
(773) 952-6162. southsideshrimp.com
Restaurant-paparazzi and food bloggers are already responding to what the Chicago Eater has called the “Hyde Park explosion.” Connections to Chicago dining institutions like Longman & Eagle and Matthias Merges’ Yusho are turning gourmand heads south, for once. I will admit that I, too, have joined the overblown hype. The Promontory and Porkchop already have me fan-girling, but can you blame me? Once the dust settles around Hyde Park’s food renaissance, what are the odds we will have an oasis of gastronomic delights? High, or so I hope.
Then again, my positive attitude might be misplaced, if South Side Shrimp can be considered a sign of what’s to come in Hyde Park.
Settled into the renovated Del Prado Hotel, near the intersection of 53rd Street and South Hyde Park Boulevard, South Side Shrimp looks decent enough from the outside and,
I have to admit, has done remarkable work advertising itself to the community. Anyone who lives within two square miles of this place has probably seen one of their (confusing) menus. Actually entering the restaurant, though, may prove to be the moment you realize you should have ordered to go.
The sterile décor doesn’t do the place any favors. Tacky decorations are mounted on crimson red walls, with the occasional nautically themed item popping up from the corner. The room’s awkwardness begs the question — did they ever expect to see customers walk through the door in the first place?
This is a fast food establishment, as the restaurant itself acknowledges, so the décor is at least somewhat forgivable. But what about the food? Well, again, this is fast food, and the main item on the menu is fried shrimp — don’t come expecting light, delicate
flavors. If anything, I’d be satisfied if the shrimp left me consistently craving more; that’s the whole charm of fried anything. The problem is that the so-called culinary centerpiece of the establishment leaves much to be desired.
A meal comes with a half-pound of “fresh” shrimp, a small order of fries, coleslaw or macaroni, and a soda. While there is certainly quantity, any quality that might have existed probably dissolved into nothing with the over-fried batter. South Side’s signature shrimp suffers from an identity crisis – is it a breaded fast-food item or a
well-seasoned boiled shrimp? – and the results are a third combination worth less than either of them. If it wasn’t for the congealed cocktail sauce on the side, I might have just left it how I found it.
Appearances are not always what they seem, and this proves true with many of the dishes here.
Take, for instance, the Shrimp and Corn Chowder. It is obvious that the soup is homemade each day just by the smells that radiate from it. Bur the aromas break down into a runny
soup with neither the heft nor the richness of chowder. Whenever corn appeared in my spoon, which was far too uncommon, the sweet and thick taste I had anticipated flickered but it was no more than a tease. As for the shrimp, it added almost nothing, drowned in the liquid base. Where did the smells of the New England coast go? All I could do was
wonder. There were other items worth at least mentioning. The fries were deep-fried past the edges of the potato, an order of clam strips displayed the typical chewiness one would expect from mass manufactured seafood, and the hushpuppies were nothing but breading.
By now it should be obvious that South Side Shrimp is far from the culinary gems expected to soon dazzle 53rd Street. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the staff are friendly and the “neighborhood-hangout” vibe is intact. South Side Shrimp is establishing itself as a local Hyde Park eatery, which makes it all the more frustrating that the food is generally so lackluster.