Last week, a group of friends and I met at Winberie's for dinner. I hadn't eaten there in many years, so I was interested to see if it had changed.
One obvious change is the name: it used to J.B. Winberie's, a name created in the day when last funny names with initials were all the rage among restaurateurs as they dreamed up names for their restaurants. I think this name trend began with R.J. Grunts, a Chicago original and the first outpost of the Rich Melman empire.
Anyway, I saw Shrimp DeJonghe on the Winberie's menu and knew immediately that's what I wanted.
This relatively simple preparation is a classic of Chicago cuisine. The recipe goes back to perhaps the late 19th century, and it was served at DeJonghe's Hotel and Restaurant (formerly at 12 E. Monroe St), perhaps to customers such as the McCormicks and Potter Palmers, who are on record as having dined there.
The DeJonghe brothers – Henri, Peter and Charles – opened their first food concession at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, though it's unknown if SDJ was served before they opened their hotel.
In the classic version, SDJ is shrimp with garlic and breadcrumbs in a casserole, with maybe a touch of booze and onions.
The Winberie's version has the garlic and a few scattered breadcrumbs, some herbs like thyme, which is a nice touch, and Dijon mustard for a touch of piquancy.
My only issue with the Winberie's version is that the shrimp were not in a casserole; they were served en brochette, skewered, which is a little problematic. Shrimp, like much crustacean meat, dries out very readily, a problem that's overcome when it's cooked in a casserole. Winberie's version was tasty enough.
A more interesting question to me is, How far can you modify a classic recipe before it becomes something else? I'm peeved at the many Caesar salads I've ordered that do not contain anchovies or even egg, for goodness sake, or chicken pot pies that are just stews topped with a pastry shell (clearly not pie).
Winberie's SDJ offers the interesting paradox of a classic recipe that is actually improved in some ways (as with the addition of herbs) but simply different in others (shrimp that's skewered and grilled rather than cooked in a casserole).
In The Politics of Experience, a classic book from the 60s, R.D. Laing made the point that many times the experience we expect is not actually better than the experience we get, and that maybe we should just "go with the flow" and accept a reality that's different than the reality we thought we'd have. With that in mind, I thought the Shrimp DeJonghe at Winberie's was just fine.