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Celebrating 20 years on Madison Street, Shanahan’s continues to bring a little Southern flare to Forest Park in serving traditional Creole cooking from catfish, crawfish and shrimp to an array of Po-Boy sandwiches.
Creole is more of an upscale cuisine, said owner Tim Shanahan. “It’s what you find in Southern, country cooking with a more French influence,” he said. “It’s gourmet, as opposed to Cajun, which is more family-style. They both utilize the same ingredients, Creole is just a higher level of cooking.”
Shanahan spent 20 years enjoying such cuisine while living in Louisiana and Florida, first learning how to cook while working at restaurants in college. He opened his first namesake restaurant in New Orleans in 1977.
Living near the ocean was “really nice” with the blue water, white sand and good fishing and hunting, he said. But Shanahan, who grew up in River Forest, missed his family, not to mention the Bears and the White Sox.
“Not the Cubs, though,” he noted.
He came back to the Chicago area in 1990 and opened another Shanahan’s at 7353 Madison. The building at his current location dates back to 1905, and in the early 1900s, it operated as an ice cream parlor that also sold liquor.
“Only in Forest Park,” Shanahan, 56, joked.
They also made candy in the basement at that time, which Shanahan’s continues to do to this day. That wasn’t necessarily the plan when Shanahan first turned the place into a restaurant, but they were “besieged by people” requesting the chocolate.
“By the middle of October, we started getting calls for the candy,” said Shanahan’s wife, Radana, who now runs the candy shop, La Maison de Bon Bon. “So many people were asking for it.”
Now they make about 5,000 pounds of French creams a year, shipping chocolates around the world from California and Florida to as far away as Poland and Germany. The “gourmet fudge” only has five ingredients: sugar, chocolate, fresh vanilla, inverted sugar and one more that is top secret.
“I can’t tell you, I won’t tell you,” said Shanahan.
Whatever the case, Robin Biggs, a waitress at Shanahan’s, described them as “life-changing pieces of heaven.”
Featuring the candy shop and restaurant, accompanied by an Irish bar, Shanahan’s is one of the longest-running eateries in town under the same owner, said Laurie Kokenes, executive director of Forest Park Chamber of Commerce. (Mark Hosty, commissioner of streets and public improvements, actually worked as general manager at Shanahan’s when it first opened. He was 21 at the time.)
“It’s one of the older ones in town,” said Shanahan, who also lives in Forest Park. “We’re pretty proud of that.”