Table Hopping: After 30 years, Chinn’s still serves pick of the catch
Bob Chinn’s signature home-baked rolls with fresh garlic are a big part of the reason the restaurant goes through 300 pounds of garlic a week. | Lee A. Litas~Sun-Times Media
Bob Chinn’s Crab House
393 S Milwaukee Ave, Wheeling
11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday: 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
(847) 520-3633 or see: bobchinns.com
Updated: January 30, 2013 4:00PM
It’s hard to believe today, but when Bob Chinn founded his Wheeling restaurant more than 30 years ago, he had a hard time getting people to try crab.
“I used to stand by the door (to let people) sample it,” said Chinn, now 90, making a face to show people’s reactions to his Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs.
These days, the most popular item on the menu is the crab. Of course, prices have changed over the past three decades. King Crab used to be $1.50 per pound, now it’s almost $30.
“I blame my grandfather for that,” said co-owner, Chinn’s grandson Dave Marder, alluding tongue-in-cheek, to the popular seafood eatery Chinn created.
Premium select “red” Alaskan king crabs weighing as much as seven pounds each can be ordered in parts or whole, steamed or cold ($38.99/16oz; $62.99/20 oz).
Always entirely family-run, today Bob Chinn’s is a destination restaurant annually serving more than one million patrons. Whether it’s Florida stone crab to Australian scallops, or New Zealand mussels to lobster tails from South Africa, Chinn’s buyers spec out the size and “meat fill” of each catch to insure they are getting quality products at all time.
“Where ever the best stuff is, that’s what we’re sourcing,” said Marder.
On any given day, Chinn’s carries seven different kinds of fresh fish, five types of crab and, surprisingly, at least 10 different cuts of steaks. In fact, they sell nearly as much steak as local steakhouses, averaging between 150-200 per day.
The menu is diverse-enough to average between $20 and $75 per person, not including their signature drinks.
“Right now we’re focusing on the Mai Tai,” said granddaughter and co-owner Carly Letourneau. Chinn’s tropical concoction is crafted in the Hawaiian Islands with real fruit juices and distilled dark rum. In the restaurant, the proprietary cocktail is served in souvenir 27-ounce Tiki mugs ($8.75), and has even been made available for purchase in retail stores throughout Chicago, sealed in eco-friendly Tetra-Pak containers ($9.99/ liter).
With an in-house bakery, homemade soups and desserts, Chinn’s is a complete scratch house. “We just think that we can do it more consistently if we do it ourselves,” explained Marder.
Besides the shellfish, another popular menu entrée is the lump crab meat vermicelli. Rice noodles are stir-fried with scrambled eggs and topped with lump Kona crabmeat, cilantro and green onions ($22.59).
And the Asian-style Florida grouper is meaty and popping with flavor, steamed with soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh ginger and black beans ($28.59).
For dessert, seems folks come from far and wide for the nutty, crunchy goodness of Bob’s ‘slice of paradise’ pie made with Hawaiian purple sweet potatoes and macadamia nuts ($6.25).
“We don’t want to sit on our laurels. There’s always a better product out there (and) we’re constantly trying new samples and new ideas to see how we can improve what we have already done,” said Marder.