South Side Shrimp

From its surprisingly clean interior to its meticulous seasonal décor, South Side Shrimp proves itself to be a thoroughly atypical fried food joint. A group of my housemates and I made the walk up to 53th and South Hyde Park to investigate one of the neighborhood’s newest establishments. Located in Del Prado, the actual building looks like it has been uprooted straight from Michigan Avenue, its soaring brick and mortar façade capped with stone Native American busts in headdresses.

South Side Shrimp is starkly contrasted with other South Side fried food staples, beginning with a nearly spotless interior and a quiet atmosphere. Free of grease-stains and bulletproof glass, the stand has legitimate dine-in service, with bulletin boards detailing community activities. Colorful paper leaves and pumpkins hang on the wall next to a variety of nautically themed decorations.

After a brief glance at the menu, I decided on the jumbo shrimp meal: a half-pound of shrimp alongside french fries, coleslaw, and a drink. The menu, which in all odds was slipped under your door or thrown onto your porch at some point since the restaurant’s opening in July, also features the typical variety of other seafood fit for hot oil, as well as chicken. More surprising, however, is the option to order a salad, soup or wrap to complement your deep-fried feast.

While I waited for my food, I talked to Hyde Park resident Alexias Peterson, who has been working at South Side Shrimp since its opening. Peterson enthusiastically described her experience working at the restaurant.

“I enjoy it, I really do,” Peterson said, while continuing to pass trays from the kitchen to hungry customers. “Working here lets me meet all of my neighbors and see how friendly the neighborhood is.”

Business was slow but steady during the time of our conversation at 8:30 on a Saturday evening, but Peterson anticipates a spike in traffic with the return of University of Chicago students, and already notes an increase in customers.

After about seven or eight minutes, our food was ready. The shrimp and fries were scalding hot, straight from the fryer. The shrimp, as extolled on the menu, was “peeled and deveined with the tails off.” The “famous seasoned Chicago Style” breading didn’t quite live up to the title, retaining a blandness even with the addition of cocktail sauce, which was neither particularly spicy nor flavorful. The fries were also fairly standard–hot and salty, but nothing outstanding.

During the course of our meal, Peterson checked in several times with our table to make sure we were finding everything we needed, which was another marked distinction from other comparable establishments. The service was not only existent, but was actually energetic and helpful. This may have been partially due to the significant decrease in patrons by the time we were actually eating. Other than a few individuals coming in to pick up food and a talkative deliveryman (who I’m pretty sure I saw sneaking into the University of Chicago’s South Campus Residence Hall to distribute menus during Orientation Week), my friends and I were the only people in the dining area.

In almost every way, South Side Shrimp’s presentation diverged from what you’d expect of a grease vendor–autumnal decorations and surfaces shiny from a dedicated staff instead of oil spots. Eating is an experience, and the mediocre food is made memorable by its warm setting.

South Side Shrimp, 5319 S. Hyde Park Blvd. Monday-Sunday, 10am-10pm. (773) 952-6162.