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May 21, 2004 03:31 PM

Fresh Mussels in Chicago?

  • d

About ten years ago, my parents moved back to the Pacific Northwest. On one vist, my mom took me to Toby's tavern in Coupeville, Washington for mussels. The tavern is actually built over the waters of Penn Cove, where (in my opinion) the best mussels in the world are farmed. If you sit by the windows in the back of the tavern, you can see the mussel beds across the cove. Needless to say the mussels are very fresh. Toby's serves the mussels cooked in a broth of beer, garlic and cilantro (I think). You get 1 1/2 lbs of mussels in a big stainless steel bowl with a couple of big slices of toasted garlic bread to sop up the juice.

Once I tasted them, I realized until that moment, I had never had a truly fresh mussel. They were very sweet and tender, with no hint of chewiness. What was most interesting was the color. A fresh mussel is not pinkish orange, but a sort of buff color. As mussels get older they turn that familiar pink-orange hue.

Anyhow, I now have an impossible standard by which I judge mussels. I no longer order them in Chicago restaurants, because they never come close to the sweet buttery tenderness of fresh Penn Cove mussels. Unfortunately, my mom just moved to Arizona, so my trips to Toby's are going to be much less frequent. So, I was hoping one of you chowhounds could point me towards the freshest mussels in Chicago.

There is a company called farm-2-market that will ship Mussels from Penn Cove overnight at $80 for 10 lbs plus shipping. (They also ship oysters, lobsters, crawfish, copper river salmon, sturgeon and kobe beef.) However, I would prefer to find a restaurant where I can enjoy a big bowl with a pint of beer.

Somebody suggested the Hopleaf, which I have not been to since they started serving food. That place has a great beer selection, but I think they are way overpriced. However, if the mussels are good it might be worth the trip.


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  1. Give the Davis Street Fish Market a try. They have a very good "raw bar" reputation.Davis Street Fish Market501 Davis St. Evanston, Ill. 847/328-3339

    1 Reply
    1. re: dj

      I've bought good mussels at Italian groceries/fish markets like Caputo in Des Plaines. Sadly, a guy named Franco who had a fish market in Des Plaines went out of business some time ago--he used to drive a refrigerated truck to the Fulton Market in New York. He would tell me what time he would return, and we could buy the seafood almost right off the truck ...

      As far as restaurants go, I'm afraid to say I've had many bad mussels in the Midwest. The worst was at a place in Milwaukee, don't know why I even ordered them ...

      Only North American places I'd recommend from my own experience are in Montreal, where there are many, many Belgian places that specialize in "moules" and Belgian beers. But I will try Hopleaf.

      And if you ever get to my native Greece, order mussels there--some places make them in a saganaki-like cheese dish.

    2. I was at Hopleaf for the first time last night and I wished I hadn't eaten already. The table next to us had mussels and frites, and they looked/smelled out of this world. I want to go back very soon.

      Also, I don't know the cost of the menu items, but I actually found the beer selection to be pretty reasonably priced as well as wonderfully extensive. I love going to the Map Room for beer selection, but I may have to trek to Hopleaf more often because they serve food.

      1. I've been to Hopleaf only once, but have had mussels and beer plenty of time - even in Brussels. The mussels at Hopleaf are very fresh and tasty - even comes with some grilled bread for dipping and frites with "tartar". Price was not expensive for the size of the portions. Even the prices for their beer are reasonable and in line with other beer bars of this caliber in the US.

        I would rate the mussels I had at Hopleaf second to only the Portsmouth Brewery in Portsmouth NH.

        I plan on making this place a destination each and every time I make it out to Chicago. It is easily becoming or has already become the best beer bar in Chicago. The Map Room and Clark St. are good too, but the selection of Belgian beers and regional micros are better at Hopleaf.

        Now if Chicago would only pass a no-smoking law so you can actually enjoy the aromas and flavors of the beer instead of the smoke, I would move there.

        1. Hi There-If you are looking for fresh mussels to cook, try issacson's fish market on Halstead 1 blk north of lake. They are a wholesale outlet during the week, but sell retail on Sat. Not only are their mussels unquestionably fresh, but they post the location of the beds where the mussels were harvested (usually Maine, but sometimes the west coast). You get to pick the ones you want and they are $1.80 per lb. as of last week. enjoy.