As if Restaurant Row wasn’t already a foodies dream come true, the West Loop’s dining scene continues to grow and expand beyond the confines of Randolph. Head just a little bit south of Randolph to 1045 W. Madison Street and you’ll find the Mad Boiler, a Cajun seafood boil restaurant that opened a few months ago.
Opened by the husband-and-wife team of Stanley Liem and Sara Katekaew—also owners of Miku Sushi in Lincoln Square—the Mad Boiler is all about getting down and dirty with some delicious seafood…in a bag. This is a restaurant that’s fun, very casual, and a bit out of the ordinary.
Mad Boiler Atmosphere
The seafood boil is a growing trend here in Chicago, but this was my first experience eating like this so I didn’t quite know what to expect. With the quirky name and little crab in the logo, my only inclination would be this restaurant would be kind of goofy or kitschy.
Thankfully, at least from my perspective, the décor is not silly or pretentious. The restaurant is very simple, clean, and relatively no frills. The setup is very much geared around the fact you’re going to be eating a messy dinner that needs to be cleaned up quickly. That means paper table cloths, plastic cups, lobster bibs and plastic gloves, and sinks right in the restaurant. This is a dining experience you can’t take too seriously when everyone is wearing plastic protection, and the restaurant made the right decision with the vibe.
At first sitting down and looking at the menu, I was a little overwhelmed by all my options, but it’s a lot easier than it looks. First, decide what type of seafood you want ranging from shrimp to mussels and lobster. For the most part, you order by the pound with one pound going to be enough for a hungry person.
Next, select from garlic butter, sweet chili, coco curry, and a Cajun dry rub. Then, you choose a spice level from one to four. I picked a two and it was already decently spicy, so be wary on your first trip. You can also pick some extra add-ons for your bag like sausage, potatoes, corn, and rice. The food arrived very quickly after ordering, in a bag, with protective plastic, a couple cracking devices, and a bucket to discard shells.
After a very short time waiting while sipping on a very strong margarita—they do have a full bar available—the food arrived inside a very hot plastic bag. I first opened up my bag of shrimp ordered with the heads off (you can choose to keep them on). These were prepared in the Cajun rub with a mild spiciness level, which was decently fiery. The remaining shells popped off very easily and the shrimp were very juicy and delicious. For my sides, I received some very tender and well-spiced pieces of sausage along with some hearty potatoes that had absorbed a lot of the seasoning and juices. As mentioned before, just one bag of shrimp and two sides was more than enough for one hungry person.
In a separate bag, I tried an order of lobster tail that amounted to two smaller-sized tails. Though I had some cracking tools, I found it easy enough to get the meat out of the shells. The lobster was cooked perfectly and seasoned with their garlic butter sauce, which seemed like a no-brainer to me. All of their sauces are very strongly flavored, so if you’re not sure about one maybe ask to try it first or go with something familiar. Remember that since you are eating with your hands, if you have multiple orders the seasoning may travel around in a way you don’t want.
By the end, I was definitely a mess with juices all over my plastic protection and seafood shells were piled high in my metal tin; I definitely understood the convenience of having a sink near my table. Of course, you don’t have to go messy if you don’t want to. My dinner date tried a shrimp po’boy sandwich she said featured a tasty barbecue-type sauce, jumbo and juicy shrimp, and was very well seasoned and quite filling.
Stuck in the Midwest, seafood can be hit-or-miss in Chicago. However, Mad Boiler exceeded my expectations while offering a dining experience that I’d never quite had before. I found I really enjoyed the casualness of the experience and this kind of visceral thrill of tearing through my food with my hands. And if the idea of eating shellfish from a bag doesn’t appeal to you, the Mad Boiler has plenty of traditional dishes and tasty drinks to sip on to keep any diner happy.
1045 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607
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