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TODAY

Monday, June 17

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Airbags

Naz and I planned on going to the Printers' Ball last week, then get dinner afterwards. But when we got to the Hothouse, the line was around the block, so we quickly changed plans and headed off for food, figuring the line would go down by the time we returned. At a bit of a loss as to where to go, we wracked our brains and drove aimlessly till Naz suddenly said, "Lawrence's Fisheries! Let's go there!"

So we were off, turning left off Roosevelt and heading south on Halsted. We got down to Archer before Naz decided we had gone too far. "It's right by a the bridge," he said, to which I replied, "Which bridge? There's dozens of them." We headed east on Archer for awhile till we spotted Lawrence's on Canal Street, just beyond a railway overpass.

Sure enough, it was "at the bridge" -- the bridge over the South Branch of the Chicago River. We walked into the restaurant and looked over the wall-mounted menu. There's not a lot on it, but regulars will tell you that's because they know what they're good at and they stick to it. And what they're good at is fried seafood. There are 11 fried items available, not counting french fries, ranging from fried catfish to chicken wings to frog legs. Each is available in a half-pound or full pound order, by itself or as a dinner, which comes with cole slaw, dinner roll, fries and two sauces: Lawrence's own hot sauce and cocktail sauce.

It's not all fried, of course -- you could also get raw oysters, boiled shrimp, tuna or crab salad and a number of other greaseless entrées. They also recently added some green salads to the menu.

Naz ordered a half-pound popcorn shrimp dinner, while I decided to take a walk on the wild side and chose the half-pound frog legs dinner. Throw in a couple drinks and an order of fried okra, and the total came to less than $15. That's another reason people make the trek to this spot in an industrial section of the city: copious food at rock bottom prices. We took our number -- which happened to be zero -- and took our place with the others waiting for by the pick-up counter.

The decor of Lawrence's Fisheries is somewhere between fast food joint and deli. The kitchen/fry area is in open view behind glass deli cases filled with desserts -- brownies, carrot cake, banana pudding -- salads and cole slaw. The seating is formica booths, the lighting is fluorescent. A sea-themed mural graces one wall, and there are stuffed marlin and sharks mounted above windows that look out onto the street and bridge. In the summer, diners can sit at picnic tables on the patio, which looked pretty sad and spartan in the harsh glow of mercury-vapor street lamps.

Our meals came out and we headed for a table. We opened up our styrofoam boxes (everything's packaged "to go") and breathed in the steam rising from the freshly fried food. It didn't take long for the order of fried okra to be devoured -- the cornmeal breading served as a nice, crunchy counterpoint to the earthy green flavor of the okra. No sauce needed for these lovely nuggets.

Naz's popcorn shrimp, golden brown and breaded in cornmeal, rested on top of a heap of crinkly fries. He said they were as good as he remembered them from lunch trips from when he worked in Chinatown years ago. The fries were a bit disappointing -- not crispy enough in comparison with the shrimp.

My frog legs, of which there were three -- they were much larger than I expected -- were also cornmeal-breaded and served atop fries. You don't find frog legs very many places, and there's at least one good reason: they're fairly lean, but what fat there is is extremely sticky. Long after I finished eating, my lips continued to stick together from the remnants of frog fat... I'm sorry, that's not that appetizing, is it? Don't get me wrong, they were really tasty -- everyone always says frog legs taste like chicken, but I thought they had a more delicate flavor. The fairly mild house hot sauce was a nice accompaniment, adding just enough flavor to accent the meat. I probably should have gotten something other than Barq's red creme soda to wash it all down, though.

We agreed that the cole slaw, which comes in a little aluminum-capped tub, was just OK. There's a little hint of horseradish, but otherwise it's just your basic slaw.

We jumped back in the car and headed up to the Hothouse again, only to find that the line was still to the corner, with about an hour left until the event was over. Considering the chill in the air and our advancing age -- "It's all college students standing out there shivering," we muttered as we drove by -- we decided to skip it. Free magazines weren't worth standing around for half an hour in the cold.

Lawrence's Fisheries is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's located at 2120 S. Canal St.; more information is available at LawrencesFisheries.com or 312/225-2113.

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About the Author(s)

Fork It Over is the result of weekly dinners with members of the Gapers Block staff. This week's review was written by Andrew Huff.

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