Five years ago, if you were shopping for, say, a pound of shrimp or some smoked chubs at Boston Fish Market in Des Plaines, you might have been treated to something from the huge spread of fresh, fried, or grilled sea creatures Louis Psihogios laid out every day to impress his large wholesale restaurant accounts.
“We didn’t want it to go to waste,” says Psihogios, the founder, kapetanios, and executive chef of what is now, with the recent opening of a massive restaurant and fish market in a former Pete Miller’s Steak & Seafood in Wheeling, a seafood wholesale, retail, and restaurant armada.
Psihogios didn’t plan for this to happen when he moved his processing operation from Park Ridge to Des Plaines in 2013, but soon his retail customers—the ones who knew about the fresh fish to be had tucked inconspicuously off Mannheim Road—began to come in around lunchtime and clamor for fried clams and walleye sandwiches. Before long there was a menu with Georges Bank scallops, and gulf snapper fried to order by the pound, and charbroiled Great Lakes platters, and whole branzino, though he’d prepare anything customers wanted from the display cases. The towering Greek salads with crabmeat and shrimp were impressive values at $13.99, and before long, lines went out the door. Those heaping platters of seafood became a signature too, notably the zuppe di pesce, a six-pound mountain of mahi mahi, Manila clams, mussels, calamari, and shrimp, the soup itself a relative puddle of sauce.
Psihogios was born 50 years ago in Greece—in the Peloponnese, he says vaguely. He’s impatient with questions about his past: “It’s all on the website,” which outlines a youth spent fishing the Mediterranean and harvesting the family’s olive orchard. He arrived in the States in the 70s, first living in New York for a few years, and then Chicago, where he worked in a handful of Greek restaurants and diners, notably cooking at the late Melrose Diner in Boystown. That was followed by a few years as a Boston longshoreman unloading fish from the docks, the experience from which he took the name of his first wholesale market, which he opened in Park Ridge in 1995.
The business has grown exponentially. He says he has ten ships fishing the Great Lakes for whitefish, and 40 more under contract, which goes a long way toward establishing Boston Fish Market as the top processor of midwestern whitefish, now more than 100 tons per week, he says. There are ten ships sailing out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, too.
The company first made moves on the 227,685-square-foot property in Wheeling three years ago, throwing a gauntlet in front of nearby Bob Chinn’s Crab House, one of the country’s perennial top-grossing independent restaurants. Last summer Louie’s Boston Fish Market opened with a new flagstone facade and four separate dining areas, two of them facing glass displays featuring a sprawl of piscine abundance on ice. Psihogios, trading his chef’s whites for a sport coat, can be spotted prowling his domain, while white-shirted Greek servers scurry tableside the instant one’s eyes are raised.
That shrimp and crabmeat salad has jumped in price—it’s $23.99 now—along with many other things on the sprawling menu, but they’re rarely not astonishingly abundant, even daunting. A massive plate of halibut Vesuvio, flaky fillets slathered with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, olives, and asparagus, seems unrestrained compared to presentations done with Mediterranean simplicity. That’s the way Psihogios still prefers things: whole broiled fish, barely treated with olive oil, lemon, and oregano.
“I eat it every day,” he says. v