Finding walleye in Chicago

July 31, 2009 (CHICAGO) As a native Minnesotan, I grew up with two staples: wild rice soup and walleye pike. When I moved to Chicago 16 years ago, the only local fish was tiny smelt in the spring. But lately, I've seen my beloved walleye showing up on more and more menus. From the cafe at the Hotel Sofitel, to Hot Chocolate in Bucktown. It seems as if local chefs are finally embracing this slightly sweet, versatile Midwestern delicacy.

You know they're not messing around with the seafood, when they're confident enough to post today's catch on the chalkboard. At Glenn's Diner and Seafood House in Ravenswood, one of the items that rarely changes this time of year is the walleye from Canada.

"Walleye is a very good season. The only time you ever run into problems is when the lakes freeze. That's it," said chef David Naiman of Glenn's Diner & Seafood House.

At Glenn's, they start with an extraordinarily large fillet, dredge it in seasoned flour, then beaten eggs, and finally, coat one side of it in crushed pretzels. The walleye is gently placed into a hot pan coated with oil, pretzel-side down. After a few minutes, it's flipped over, then placed into a hot oven. Once the flesh is opaque, the walleye is plated along with roasted potatoes and summer vegetables.

"You can broil it, pan fry it, deep fry it, you can bake it, you can grill it. You can encrust it in pretzels. You can do just about anything you want to it. It is very versatile," Naiman said.

In the North Center neighborhood - and despite its name - the brand new Browntrout also keeps walleye on its menu regularly. The preparation is pretty simple: a little salt, a quick dredge in some seasoned flour, and into a hot pan coated with a bit of oil.

"It's just a great fish. I've been a fisherman my whole life and I've always wanted to open a restaurant that was able to serve these types of fishes that I have fished my whole life," said Sean Sanders, the chef and owner of Browntrout.

Sanders keeps the sides simple - just a few seasonal vegetables. But it's how he finishes the walleye that matters: just before removing it from the stove, he tosses in a cube of butter, heats it until it browns, and then bastes the fish with that nutty-yet-fatty complement.

"Well, walleye is a very sustainable fish. It is something that is fished throughout Canada and throughout the Great Lakes. But it is something that is always in high demand and supply," Sanders said.

Walleye season runs through the fall.

4111 N. Lincoln Ave.
-pan seared walleye pike with fingerling potatoes, morels and salsa verde.

Glenn's Diner
1820 W. Montrose
-pretzel-crusted walleye fillet with roasted potatoes and vegetables

Also mentioned:

Cafe des Architectes
20 E. Chestnut St.
-Walleye pike entree with Manila clams, flageolet beans, and basil puree

Terzo Piano (in the Modern addition at the Art Institute)
159 E. Monroe
-Lake Erie walleye pike with grilled panzanella and tomato vinaigrette

Hot Chocolate
1747 N. Damen Ave.

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