Troha’s Shrimp and Chicken

(Holly Zaharchuk)

You won’t find any vegetables on this menu. The distinct scent and hushed bubbling of deep fryers in Troha’s Shrimp and Chicken invite you into this mom-and-pop style joint—and immediately you know you’re in for a fried food feast. The menu board glows behind the counter, featuring crispy confections from frog legs to jalapeno poppers, and a glass display case offers a preview of the coming meal. Troha’s décor reflects the humbleness and familiarity of its food, with a collage of movie star portraits and nautical tchotchkes on its walls.

Troha’s has been a family institution in Little Village since 1920, serving up piping hot carry-out eats to their loyal customers. Stepping inside this place is reminiscent of the classic greasy spoon diner, without frills or pretentiousness; but the absence of seating and the presence of styrofoam take-out containers remind you that you’re meant to be eating on the go. The friendly waitstaff, greeting customers with a smile and speedy service, also captured that diner feel.

As suggested by the restaurant’s name, Troha’s knows a thing or two about shrimp and chicken—both were perfectly fried with a crisp cornmeal crust outside and succulent meat inside. Both items, however, left my fellow diners and me in want of seasoning. The lack of spices, let alone salt, was a recurring theme as we tasted our way through the fried fare. Neither my companions nor I were daring enough to attempt the fried frog legs, but the jalapeno poppers were a hit—delightfully crunchy on the outside with a kick of spice and a healthy dose of soft cream cheese inside.

It was obvious from one bite of Troha’s food that the kitchen really mastered the technique of frying.  Surprisingly then, the French fries were a low point of the meal, since they appeared to have been bought precut and ready to be fried without any other preparations. They were soggy and bland; however, the catfish, as with the jalapenos and shrimp, was tender with a–you guessed it–crunchy coating. The overall lack of flavor was alleviated by the array of sauces, including mild, cocktail, hot, and tartar sauce. The tartar sauce was simple, yet balanced between tangy and creamy; and when I combined a bit of catfish with some of Troha’s coleslaw, the result was true seaside bliss. The cold cabbage maintained its natural crunch, offset by the soft fish and its hot cornmeal crust, with the acidity of the slaw adding a punch of flavor to complete the bite.

Our meal at Troha’s Shrimp and Chicken had been decent, well-executed, but not ambitious. I suppose ambition isn’t relevant for a joint so committed to capturing the simple pleasure of American comfort food. But in this context, I was searching for that one missing element in each thing I tried, which would have created that spirit of down-home, unapologetic food. Maybe I should’ve gotten the frog legs. 4151 W. 26th St.  Monday, 2pm-9pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm; Sunday, 12pm-8pm. (773) 521-7847. chicagoshrimphouse.com