By Richard Deulofeut
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 Parks 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 on 53rd Street and South
Hyde Park, 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 – am I 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 dazzle 53rd Street soon. 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.
South Side Shrimp, 5319 S. Hyde Park Blvd. Monday-Sunday, 10am-10pm.
(773) 952-6162. southsideshrimp.com