Standing behind pearlescent bodies of stuffed sailfish and ice-packed cases filled with troves of fish fillets, Bill Dugan mans the counter of Fishguy Market like Ahab in the wheelhouse of the Pequod. Like Ahab, he has a single-minded quest: not to kill a whale, but to procure and share the best bounty of the sea with his fellow Chicagoans.
The crew converts the market into a restaurant by the name of Wellfleet every Friday, and while the cooking is excellent, yarn-spinning bon vivant Dugan remains the real draw. By presenting the context for the food — where the fish originated, how it was caught — he transforms the passive meal into an interactive experience.
Q. What do you wish you could pickle and preserve or change about the Chicago restaurant/ food scene?
A. Chicago is at the top of its game in regards to cuisine and is the most beautiful city in the U.S. Regina Pizzeria in Boston’s North End magically transported down the street from my house would be nice.
Q. What would your last meal be?
A. I have seedless concord grape vines, [so] the jam I make from them along with a glop of Jif on some Pepperidge Farm with a glass of ice-cold milk — little bit of heaven right here on earth.
Q. What Chicago chef would you most like to share a kitchen with?
A. Matthias Merges (chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s). I would be his scullery (dishwasher) bitch if he asked. Matt is the most even-keeled, kind and generous person I have ever met in this business, and he has a unique talent for treating unusual products very simply. Also, the cat has a sense of humor.
Q. What’s the can’t-miss meal at the Fishguy/Wellfleet?
A. Well, if you gave Leo Bariso [Wellfleet chef] a few Damariscotta oysters, some ramps, a nice piece of bigeye tuna, a bobby pin and a couple of matches. … Our Wellfleet caviar terrine that we make from Illinois sturgeon caviar is ethereal.
Q. What should we know about the Fishguy/Wellfleet that we probably don’t?
A. That I’m in the witness protection program. That we do have a beautiful roof garden above the store where we grow herbs and entertain friends. Wellfleet is dedicated to Peter Bird and my parents, Jim and Virginia, beautiful people no longer among us.
The Fish Guy Market/Wellfleet; 4423 N. Elston Ave., Chicagon (773) 283-7400