Sure, the Keg has been castrated, but not all hope is lost, Northwestern. On Howard Street, the border between Evanston and Chicago, resides a little-known establishment which goes by the name of The Fish Keg. As this is now the closest keg to Northwestern, I thought I would take advantage of the mild weather and see what our new destined focal point of regretful debauchery has to offer.
Walking down Howard Street, the Fish Keg was easily identifiable by its big red neon sign. If not for that sign, the Fish Keg would’ve been completely unassuming, as it’s located in an old brick flat that effortlessly blends into the surrounding architecture. Then again, the Keg didn’t look like much from the outside either. So, business as usual.
As I walked through the door, I started instinctively grabbing for my wallet. But, lo and behold, there was nobody at the door waiting to check for three forms of valid, government-issued photo ID (I brought my social security card and my passport just in case). In fact, there were only two people working behind the counter that night. They must’ve been bartenders.
The first thing that came to my attention was how tiny the interior was. Merely the dancefloor of the Keg exceeds the entire Fish Keg in square-footage. This is clearly a keg made for Williams or Pomona, not a Big Ten school like Northwestern. So unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have to do even more squeezing, shoving, and “‘scuse me” than before. Also, it was brightly lit inside, but I went on Sunday night at 8, and I’m sure everything will be set just right come Saturday night. In fact, the Fish Keg has a distinct hole-in-the-wall feel, just like the Keg of Evanston, so any frequent kegster will be right at home.
The Fish Keg has a wide selection of mixers, including RC Cola (whatever that is), other colas, various fruit juices, and lemonade. I couldn’t see any rum or vodka anywhere, so maybe it was all hidden in the back. The popcorn machine was also absent, but a variety of cookies, candies, chips and seafood sauces were on deck instead.
I went up to the bar and tried to order a few mixed drinks, but the bartender just looked confused — possibly even more confused than I was when I saw that they decorated their bar with fillets of raw fish. So I ordered something that was actually on the menu instead — fried salmon. That attempt elicited a more pleasing reaction.
You see, the Fish Keg is very good at one thing: making fried seafood for you to take home. It’s 100 percent take-out; there are no tables or seats inside. Seafood is ordered by pound and prices are reasonable, generally hovering around $10 per pound, with shrimp, scallop, walleye, and salmon priced a bit higher. For a group of three, the total bill rounded up to $32. Sides of hush puppies, coleslaw, potato or macaroni salad, French fries, and clam chowder are also available. My order, which included smelt, perch, hush puppies, Cajun catfish, scallops, and coleslaw in addition to the aforementioned fried salmon, was ready after a remarkably short wait, and I went off to an undisclosed location to enjoy the food.
The standouts were definitely the salmon, scallops, and Cajun catfish. The meat in the fried salmon was very tender, and salmon’s distinct flavor took center stage in every bite. The thin layer of breading was perfect for the amount of meat, and it added a satisfying crunch without drawing attention away from the fish. The scallops were just as good; remarkably tender and flavorful. The Cajun flavor in the catfish was a little veiled at first taste, but quickly made a bold entrance. It had a suitable amount of spice, but I felt that the seasoning was a little overdone at the same time, overpowering the fish itself. I enjoyed it regardless. The side dishes I tasted, coleslaw and hush puppies, were well-prepared but nothing extraordinary.
In the end, the Fish Keg is nothing like our beloved Keg of Evanston. However, with its tasty seafood and fast service, it certainly has something of its own to offer. It might not become a staple of your Monday or Saturday nights, but it’s worth a visit if you want to experience some new tastes without straying very far from home.
How to get there: Board a CTA Route 201 bus headed toward Howard Station, get off at Howard & Ridge. Walk west on Howard St. for about half a block. The Fish Keg’s address is 2233 Howard St.