Wellfleet at The Fishguy Market
Fri. April 27, 2012 12:00 AM
by Rick Karlin
Wellfleet, located in The Fishguy Market used to call itself an "occasional restaurant" in that meals were offered one night a week. The dining in aspect proved so popular that it is no longer occasional, lunch is served Monday through Saturday 11:30 to 4:30. There are just a few tables, the menu is intentionally limited and it's BYOB.
That's fine with the titular fish guy owner, Bill Dugan, "I wanted to return to a simpler way of thinking regarding cuisine. It's about serving luxurious, fresh items without the clutter. Currently I feel cuisine is too fussy and contrived. My approach is to reduce the common denominators to a minimum so I can concentrate on doing a handful of dishes really well and offer it at a distinctive value."
The lunch menu is limited to eight items, and changes to showcase whatever food is freshest that day. Starters always include a salad, pizza and soup (always clam chowder, sometimes an additional option). The clam chowder is so fresh that you'd sweat the clams jumped into the pot willingly. Although it is the creamy New England version of the dish, it somehow manages to be both rich and light at the same time. Another good starter option is the golden beet salad, served with greens a poached egg and a creamy herb dressing. The pizzas look yummy, but I'm there for the fish, so unless there's a seafood pizza being offered (there often is), I don't even consider it an option.
Entrée options are headlined by that New England staple, a lobster roll. For those unfamiliar with the dish it is a lobster salad on a buttered and toasted roll similar to a hot dog bun. It's pricey ($19), but filled with plenty of lobster, among the best versions of this dish that I've had in Chicago. Another hit is the grilled octopus, prepared Tunisian style, with lemon and saffron. Fettuccine with fresh clams, steamed mussels and grilled shrimp are among some of the dishes that often round out the menu.
In keeping with his minimalist viewpoint and desire to showcase great seafood, Dugan often comes up with unique dishes, "I made a tuna melt the other day with fresh albacore seared rare and a thin slice of Bel Paese cheese and it was very yummy.
The restaurant is located in a distinctly unhip neighborhood, Montrose and Elston where Albany Park borders Mayfair. Dugan explains his reason for choosing that location, "It's a great location for my wholesale business in that we are equidistant from O'Hare to downtown. We're at the airport every day and sometimes twice a day picking up product. "
His staff is small and the feeling is of dining in a family member's kitchen, it just happens to be situated in the middle of a fish market. "My goal is to have my staff and their families carry this on, long after I'm gone. The business of fish mongering is in danger of becoming extinct, but I feel it's an important trade to continue."
Dugan is also an environmentally concerned fish monger. "It's a challenging environment for small business owners like me, I have not sold Chilean saw tooth (aka sea bass) in more than 13 years and I stopped selling bluefin tuna and Caspian and Black Sea caviar 10 years ago. I was making a great deal of money on these items. Dealing bluefin tuna out of Cape Cod is how I started my business. Fishermen are concerned for the future of the seas with good reason. At least the small family operators that I deal with are, and they have the best information."