The storefront space left open recently by Maurella's will not be empty for long, so long as Robert Degen has anything to say about it.
“This restaurant is going to blow people away," the Minooka resident said. "Everyone is going to love it.”
Degen is confident that he will reach his goal of opening his restaurant, the Shrimp Barn by December 1.
From a small rural town on the outside, customers will enter into a Southern Creole/Cajun atmosphere equipped with 1930’s style table and chairs and southern country, Cajun and Creole music playing in the background.
Customers will have the opportunity to purchase Degen’s breaded shrimp and more at the carry-out restaurant located at 125 East Mondamin Street in Minooka.
Those who eat out often will be familiar with the location. It has been the home of Gabriella’s and more recently Maurella’s; both restaurants that served Italian cuisine. Some old timers may know this location as housing the first post office and bank in Minooka.
Degen will be offering popcorn, regular and jumbo shrimp. The shrimp is coated in a special breading and is complimented with a variety of sauces including a sweet heat and honey mustard. Degen would not budge on offering his secret recipes, but said he is looking forward to customers trying to figure out what ingredients make up his secret breading and sauces. He said he will also serve shrimp wrapped with a jalapeño pepper and bacon.
“The goal is to get a great following who want a craving for my shrimp,” Degen said.
In addition to shrimp, the menu will include frog legs, clams, scallops and 16 types of fish including catfish, tilapia, walleye, perch and smelt.
Chicken will also be on the menu. Degen will offer Honey Stung Chicken, which he describes as 'gooey and so good.' The hot chicken wings will be a whole chicken wing rather than the smaller variety found at other restaurants.
Of course fries will be on the menu, said Degen. However, he will prepare steak fries, which is a thicker cut fry. For the daring customer, he will be offering hot steak fries. These have a special buffalo wing hot sauce and are served with blue cheese or ranch dip.
Additional items on the menu will include hush puppies, breaded vegetables, potato pancakes and both green and Caesar salad. Garlic bread will be offered as well, Degen said, adding that it will be made a unique way. Another secret Degen was not willing to give in on.
For customers with a sweet tooth, Degen said he would like to serve Eli’s cheesecake and his wife Susette’s brownies. The dessert menu is still in the planning stages, he said.
Degen's background is in culinary arts. He followed his dream of being a chef and completed culinary school. He has worked as a chef at Chicago hotels, including the Ritz Carlton and Nikko Hotel. While in Chicago, he also served as a head chef at Harry Caray’s and Michael Jordan’s restaurants and worked for Arnie Morton owner of Morton’s The Steakhouse.
Wine Tasting/Vintage Store
The Shrimp Barn is going to sell bottled wine from local wineries. Degen said there will be frequent wine tastings at the restaurant.
“I love wine and I want to get wines from local wineries, like Utica and Geona that people can try,” Degen said, adding that particular wines go very well with seafood. “Having wine tastings also broadens my knowledge and understanding of wine.”
While Degen oversees the cooking and wine tastings, his wife Susette is looking for consignment ideas and people to rent space to sell their vintage items. Candles, home goods, painted furniture and antiques are among the items that will be for sale.
“This is something Susette always wanted to do,” Degen said “We are going to take care of the people around here.”