A visit to Dirk’s is usually an experience that is part education and part entertainment. Owner Dirk Fucik, who is perpetually good humored, knows how to make shopping at his fish paraphernalia-packed shop not only fun, but educational. Ask Fucik a question, and he’ll easily tick off an explanation or suggest an interesting way to prepare your fish. Most of all, he and his staff wants you to enjoy your fish and discover new types and new ways to cook it. “Fish is healthy,” says Fucik, “and there are so many varieties. They all have different flavors and uses.” Fresh fish can be flavored with one of six to eight marinades made daily, such as teriyaki or ginger garlic, or with something like Japanese panko crumbs for an extra crispy crunch.
The fish is delivered fresh six days a week and the selection boasts what’s best in season. The fish always looks fresh, and that’s because it is. “I get most of my fish whole, keep them under ice, and cut them up as we go,” Fucik explains. “I encourage you to eat it today because that’s the whole point of fresh fish.” The fish selection varies, and if you don’t see what you want, Dirk’s can get it for you with advance notice depending on what’s in season and weather permitting.
Mother’s Day is the time to look forward to sockeye salmon, and the first full moon of May is when soft shell-crabs start coming into season. A lobster tank holds live Maine lobsters and Washington state Dungeness crabs. Come summer, there’s no better way to raise your picnic up a notch than with lobster rolls, the filling for which Dirk’s can make for you. Generally on Thursdays, Dirk’s gets Maine king crab meat—something you don’t find often in other stores. It’s so sweet, it’s good on its own.
Fall and winter are the times for lake trout, lake whitefish, walleye pike, striped bass, bluefish, blackfish, farmed King salmon, tuna, king mackerel, mahi mahi, yellowtail (aka hamachi), red snapper, grouper, corvina, cobia, and crab, including Florida Stone crab. From November to about mid-December is the season for fresh Alaskan King Crab from Dutch Harbor, one of Dirk’s favorites.
Another delicacy in November is sweet Nantucket Bay scallops, available by pre-order for those willing to shell out the big bucks. Less expensive are the Maine diver-caught scallops, which are literally picked individually off the ocean floor by divers.
Other shellfish in which to indulge include shrimp, oysters, clams, and mussels. Wild Gulf of Mexico shrimp cooked daily is the main type of shrimp Dirk’s carries. “People don’t understand why it costs more,” Dirk points out, “so we give customers a sample so that they can taste the difference.” Most stores carry the farm-raised tiger shrimp, which while cheaper, can be blander in taste in part because they are often precooked and frozen before shipping. Other varieties to try are huge Nigerian tiger prawns or white Caribbean shrimp (good in soups, paella, and casseroles).
About three varieties of cold-water West Coast oysters and a couple of East Coast oysters are available regularly, and others depending on season and availability. Each type has its distinctive taste, depending on what inlet and waters it comes from, but you’ll always find Kumumoto and Blue Points. And if all this weren’t enough, in the freezer are more delicacies such as cold-water lobster tails, king crab legs, Alaskan spot prawns (when available), small rock shrimp, squid steaks, conch, and some prepared items ready to heat.
Fucik likes to remind you that Dirk’s is “your one-stop sushi shop,” especially for sushi-quality bigeye tuna, Hawaiian yellowtail and salmon. Check the menu on the website and call ahead to order. There are even sushi-making classes. If you’re a smoked salmon lover, I highly recommend the Ducktrap River Farms smoked salmon, thinly hand sliced to order. It’s one of the big sellers, and delicious. The New York-style nova lox, cold-smoked sable, and smoked chubs also are very good. On the caviar front, you won’t find beluga (imported sturgeons are now endangered), but instead a variety of domestic types—white sturgeon (California farm-raised “Estate Osetra”), hackleback (short-nosed sturgeon), and American paddlefish.
Out of concern for overfishing and the environment, Dirk’s no longer sells bluefin tuna, orange roughy, and any species of shark, along with other species. Dirk’s is partnering with the Shedd Aquarium to focus on offering sustainable choices in line with the Shedd’s Right Bite card and, in some cases, Fucik’s personal choices of fish he believes are appropriately raised or caught.
Sampling is encouraged, and it seems Fucik is always handing something out to customers to try. The shop also holds weekly tastings on Saturdays, from 12 noon to 3:00 p.m. and grilling demonstrations out front in nice weather. Soup classes are big during the winter months to learn some of basics like chowders and bisques and your not-run-of-the-mills recipes, like fish “stoup” that’s light, brothy with trout, whitefish, and vegetables; roasted pumpkin and Kona Kampachi; mussel, scallop, tomato, and saffron bisque; and wild rice and mushroom shrimp soup.
Dirk’s offers hot soup daily and a selection in the refrigerator case. The shop also regularly carries a number of frozen soups, including chowders, bisques, bouillabaisse, stews, seafood minestrone, gumbos, fish chili, and fish stock.
Ready-to-go selections include crab, shrimp, and salmon cakes, as well as seafood lasagna. There also are salads, such as Dirk’s “awesome” tuna (with 12 ingredients), salmon salad made from poached salmon, shrimp, and one of my favorites, a smooth smoked whitefish salad. Summer brings on ceviches and gazpacho. Party trays, such as Jonah crab claw and jumbo shrimp, smoked fish, whole poached fish, even a gefilte fish tray, or anything to your liking, can be prepared. Fucik, his wife Terry, and the staff are full of ideas and are open to preparing new recipes.
Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop
2070 North Clybourn Avenue
Hours: Monday – Friday, 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Saturdays, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sundays, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Parking: Foundry Shopping Center lot