Thursday, January 20, 2011
Shaw's Crab House
As nearly happens every year, we here at the Commissary are faced with a plethora of travel opportunities, and 2010 was no exception. Given the youthful ages of the progeny (5 and almost 2, to be specific) and the limited availability of extended time period babysitters, we just can't make it everywhere that we'd like. For example, Mrs. Hackknife and I were invited to 4 out-of-town weddings last year, one involving a first cousin of mine, another involving one of my best friends, and two others that were more like destination weddings - a distant cousin whom I haven't seen in several years opted to tie the knot in Key West and a good friend of Mrs. Hackknife's family got married in his partner's hometown of Austin, TX. The first two were clearly can't-miss affairs (and we brought the kids with us to both of them) and with all of our other travel obligations for the year, we had to sadly decline attendance at the other two.
Which brings me to our foodie posting today. In lieu of attending the Austin wedding, Mrs. Hackknife and me, my in-laws Dan and Michelle, and my wife's cousin Bob (with his girlfriend Gwen) asked the newlyweds Kevin and Xavier if we could buy them Sunday brunch at Shaw's Crab House and they happily accepted. I had eaten dinner once at Shaw's Schaumburg location many moons ago, but had never been to the downtown location (21 E. Hubbard), which is where we found ourselves on a chilly Sunday morning just a scant hour-and-a-half before kickoff of the Bears divisional playoff game with the crowd in question. As it turns out, we were pretty much the first ones seated and got a firsthand view of the dining delights being prepared at the front of the room. Now usually I'm a little leery of the quality of most brunch buffets as 1) the restaurant usually doesn't assign its A-team cooks to work on Sunday morning since those people are reserved for the really important services (i.e., Friday and Saturday nights) and 2) Sunday is a good time to clean out the walk-ins and serve up whatever leftovers might be lurking about from up to 6 days past before the new raw materials show up on Monday. I have to say, however, I was quite impressed with Shaw's buffet offerings. I started out with a house Bloody Mary (not a lot of garnish, just a pickle) as a palate cleanser, then moved on to the cold buffet items, set up at a serving station in the bar. These goodies included Alaskan king crab bites (neatly trimmed down to avoid most of the messy work), chilled shrimp, various ceviches, a couple of sushi offerings, smoked salmon and pastrami-cured salmon, grain salad, and possibly the best of the bunch, a surprisingly-good roasted vegetable salad. The only problem was getting hands on oysters - the small tray on the table was constantly emptied out before it could be replenished.
Feeling pretty sated from Round 1, I moved on to the hot entrees. Here sat possibly the best bacon I'd ever eaten - a smoked and caramelized number that went down like candy (although several strips into my gluttony, I realized that the darker, crispier ones weren't as good as the slightly-undercooked group). This was accompanied by regular and chicken sausage links, a fantastic chicken artichoke strata (probably loaded with many of those leftovers cited above, but who's paying attention?), a lobster/brie penne pasta, seafood pot pie (just ok, in my opinion), crab cakes, scalloped potatoes that I'd kill to learn how to make at home, and tasty lobster bisque (although by that time, I was pretty much beyond digestive capacity). I took a brief respite, ducked out to the bar a few times to check the Bears score, then made my way over to the omelet station for a homemade waffle. They were also doing Bananas Foster there, but I had to pass lest I end up in ER for the rest of the day. No such well-being fears prevented me from assailing the dessert station (more of a closet, I'd say) a little while later, sampling key lime pie bites, creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake, and fresh fruit salad. They even had Cracker Jack and (possibly the most popular item there, given how fast it kept disappearing) homemade cotton candy for the kids.
There you have it. I never did get my oysters. Never was able to eat an omelet or a pecan tartlet or imbibe a mimosa, all things that would have made it down my gullet under normal brunch buffet conditions, but no, this was far from normal. I don't think my brother-in-law ever ventured beyond the pile of crab bites in the bar ("Hey, Dan, the ocean called....."), but regardless, the crab and all of its friends were in top form that day. And the Bears even won.....