Saturday, October 19, 2013

Diner’s Dives and Drive-In’s Big & little's Fish and Chips

Yes they have parking. A big plus in Chicago
I’m just hooked on Diner’s Dives and Drive-In’s. I have been a fan of Triple D for some time now. Unlike the celebrity chefs on many TV cooking shows, the chefs, cooks and restaurants featured on Triple D are often ordinary people like you or me who really enjoy cooking and eating good food. The places featured, and I hope I’m wrong, just might be our last glimpse of the mom and pop entrepreneurial spirit. I especially enjoy it when the featured venue is in or around the Chicago area, so I can visit them.
No printed menu's! Now where are my glasses?
Initially planning a road trip to Wisconsin to see the trees turning to their fall colors, on this particular Saturday the sky was overcast and it began to rain on and off. So much for a road trip to Wisconsin. I told my wife that I would like to go out for German food, or to Big & little's for fish & chips. Determining where to go was going to be a last minute decision based on traffic congestion. On this day the traffic was congested but not unbearable. It is amazing how we have learned to tolerate traffic jams. We decided to go the distance to Big & little's, featured on Triple D at 860 N Orleans St  in Chicago. 
Shrimp & Chips
When we arrived at Big & little's the gated broken asphalt and gravel private parking lot was a welcome site. The North side of the parking lot had deep ruts so we found a spot of level ground on the South side of the lot. It's ironic that their neighbor to the South is Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. I was sure that we were going to have a really good dining experience. The two side entrance doors were propped open with cement cinder blocks and actually stepping into the restaurant entrance was a bit of a challenge as well because of the uneven threshold. Watch your step! The kitchen order counter had a large chalkboard menu overhead featuring the item names and the price. There were no extended descriptions. Under the section "FRIED SEAFOOD" we ordered the Fish & Chips - Cod which I saw on Triple D and also the Shrimp & Chips. Each of these choices were $15.00. Other than chips we were unsure if anything else came with these entrees. For drinks we were offered a choice of bottled soft drinks, or fountain drinks. We opted for the bottled drinks for nostalgia reasons. Our order total was $39.00 and some change which is about what I expected. They gave us our drinks, took our name and said that they would call us when our order was ready.
Cod fish & chips
At first I didn't realized that there were two seating areas in two different rooms. The first, where you order is mostly picnic tables with attached benches. The second room was set up with booths and more picnic tables. My wife went to one room and waited for me. I went to the other room thinking she went off to the restroom. Our name was called on the speaker system and my wife picked up our order. 
The Fish & chips consisted of on very large and thick piece of beer battered cod that was cooked perfectly in my opinion, a generous portion of French fries, two lemon wedges and a plastic portion cup of tartar sauce. The ratio of beer batter to fish was perfect. The texture (crunch) was exactly what I hoped for. The Shrimp and chips consisted of 13 beer battered fried shrimp dipped in the same beer batter, two lemon wedges and a plastic portion cup of cocktail seafood sauce. Prior to leaving for Chicago I looked at photo's on Yelp and saw a picture with 5 large shrimp with the chips. I'm not sure if they changed to much smaller shrimp size and more of them, or if they ran out of larger shrimp and substituted more of the smaller ones. Whatever the reason the ratio of beer batter to shrimp was closer to 50/50. My wife removed much of the fried batter from the shrimp before eating them. Both entrees were served in plastic baskets with waxed paper sheets and very flimsy plastic knives and forks. We were both surprised that there was no Cole slaw served with either meal to balance the richness of the fried fish and chips. The cod was amazing. I can honestly say that my wife and I could have split either entree and been content paying $20.00 instead of $39.00. 
While I was there I asked for a printed menu and was told they didn't have one, pointing to the chalkboard instead. Their choices on the menu were many but I really didn't know what many of them were, especially the "POKE TACOS" which has steamed blue crab included in that section. On the "BURGER" menu I had no idea what a "Hercules, Zeus, Hawaii 5-0, little's MICK DIDDY, or BIGS MACK DADDY" were.   
Overall I would say judging from the clientele during my visit that Big & little's appeals to all ages. The half filled hot sauce bottles on the tables had dried sauce in the necks and tops, the table top was slightly sticky and apparently not wiped off after the last patrons left.
If you've never experienced a Wisconsin cod or haddock fish fry and you're really hungry give Big & little's fish & chips a try. It is amazing! If it's fried shrimp you crave just around the corner at 1011 W. Division Street is the Goose Island Shrimp House, Chicago's oldest shrimp house. Wherever you decide to go bring plenty of cash as both are "cash only" establishments. Big and little's does have an ATM. 
Would I return to Big & little's? You bet! To allow me more choices I would bring people who are willing to split orders. I would love to try the PORKBELLY POBOYS next time. Maybe for the fish and chips they should have two order sizes, Big $15.00 & Little's $8.00.  It could be on a secret menu for loyal customers. Support your local merchant!

© T Melle 2013