I’ve been on a tear for fried fish lately. Is this genetic? My dad was a nut for fish of all kinds. He came to visit when I was living in Hong Kong and we had seafood morning, noon and night. Having lived in Chicago twice before, I was never aware that “fried shrimp” was a local thing. Big time.
There are several chains, some around since the 40s (1940s, not my 40s), a couple of the more successful ones started on the far south side of town. These places offered fried fish, shrimp and chicken. Two of the more prosperous ones seems to be Frank’s Chicago Shrimp House (reviewed), and Harold’s Chicken Shack, which I have been to recently, but not written about yet. They are both good and don’t vary much.
So I was tooling around the wrong side of the tracks in Rockford, Illinois (when I first started going there 40 years ago, the entire city was the wrong side of the tracks), and I spotted what I thought was a local mom and pop fish place, “JJ Fish and Chicken.”
They have an extensive menu of fried fish, shrimp, chicken and other goodies, which you can order in massive quantities, as a plate dinner, or by the piece. I got a few filets of catfish and an order of rings.
It’s cooked to order so it takes a bit of time, but I was the only customer ordering, there were a couple ladies dining in who were just finishing up.
The employee asked me if I wanted the “secret seasoning,” and I was feeling adventurous, so I said ‘yeah, what the hell,” and he sprinkled it liberally on everything. Turns out it’s not so secret, it’s lemon pepper.
The food was good. Good enough to go back. The fish was done perfectly, crisp, nice cornmeal breading, not thick, not thin. Fries were also good, I would never think about lemon pepper as a fries condiment, but it works. Rings were ok, but I’m sure they just come to the shop frozen from one of the big suppliers.
I’m looking to see if they have a website, and I find out that JJ was also started on the south side of Chicago and has over 130 restaurants nationwide, with 90 locations in the city alone. I’d never seen one, but did spy a location in the loop a couple weeks ago, a tiny, mostly take-out shop in the midst of the business jungle.
In fact, there are a number of websites for JJ’s, including one for just eight locations in Northern California. So it’s not clear whether these are structured as traditional franchises or ‘affiliations.’
No matter, I liked it. I’ll seek them out from time to time. You should too.
JJ Fish and Chicken Review