The only thing missing from Michael Kornick and David Morton’s nautical adjunct to DMK Burger Bar is an animatronic one-eyed pirate with a cursing macaw on his shoulder. What it does have is faux salt-blasted planks on the walls, a canoe hanging from the ceiling (are those seaworthy?), and a greatest-hits list culled from classic New Orleans oyster bars, New England clam shacks, and the extinct species of Chicago River fried-shrimp shanties. From a business standpoint it’s shrewd—alongside a trio of four-seater booths, the 18-seat cedar bar rectangulates in front of the open kitchen like a pair of beaver teeth. By the entranceway you can wait for a seat, drinking small, sweetish but potent cocktails or huge-headed Belgian beers inexpertly poured in—gasp!—mason jars.
And you will probably wait. Someone is always waiting. And you will probably need a drink.
But the dishes come out fast enough—and small enough—to ensure rapid turnover, and as busy as it is, it’s ideal for single eaters (groups larger than four are sent next door)—though perhaps not those of stouter body types.
“There’s no way a fat man can get full here,” one of my portly pals complained, though he was happy with the sweet, peppery, corny lobster bisque and the po’boy swaddling a thick-cut slaw and zingy remoulade from which spilled fat, amoeboid fried oysters, hot and too monstrous to be contained by the flimsy cardboard boat. It’s true that portions are dainty—excepting that po’boy and a decently sized buttery lobster roll, light on the mayo. But they aren’t steeply priced, and cups of sausagey gumbo with diaphanous threads of crabmeat or chunky New England clam chowder with sizable lumps of chewy mollusk can easily be supplemented by quarter-pound portions of hard-fried shrimp or calamari or small plates of supertender grilled octopus with preserved lemon, olive oil, and chile.
A deep Cobb salad might take up some digestive real estate too, with fat shrimp and hunks of crab claw (though the promised salmon and squid was missing from mine). But for the most part raw preparations like the changeable tartare and carpaccio and grilled catch of the day are mere snacks—perhaps meant to whet your appetite for a burger and shake next door.
Executionally, maybe the kitchen should slow it down: three different clam preparations (fried, shucked, and chowdered) all contained bivalves harboring molar-abrading deposits of sand, and the raw Wellfleet and Fanny Bay oysters I slurped went down with significant amount of shell shrapnel. Same thing with the fry station: those clams oozed hot grease, and an interesting but ultimately inedible mix of deep-fried onions, jalapeños, and lemon slices dripped with it. And just because you have a species that isn’t yet overfished doesn’t mean you should make ceviche with it—what scant Spanish mackerel there was among the avocado and pineapple in a tiny jar was mushy and ill suited for the preparation.
Still, if you can abide the cornball menu-ese—there’s a cocktail called Sonja Does Sicily—and the P.J. McPickleshitter’s aesthetic—a fly rod sits in the corner in case you want to go casting for wild Lakeview Chad or Trixie—a figurative shrimp shack that promises to serve “sustainable, wild-caught and responsibly farmed” seafood isn’t a bad thing at all.