Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I Was Going to Title This Blog…

"And Now for Something Completely Different" as in the 1971 Monty Python movie of the same name. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate and "And Now for Something Kinda-Sorta Different" doesn’t have the same ring. So maybe I’ll just let the blog stand without a title.

It was time for a lunch break during our walking tour of Historic Downtown Biloxi. and I knew just the place—the Half Shell Oyster House. “(The) second Half Shell Oyster House location opened in downtown Biloxi, Mississippi in May 2011. Situated a block from city hall and across from the old library, this restaurant was retrofitted from an historic two-story bank building….

"With outstanding views from the numerous windows on both floors…(a)ntique chandeliers and architecturally correct pieces from the French Quarter don its walls and ceilings.
"Our famous exhibition oyster kitchen is located downstairs and is connected to a full service bar and lounge area.
"Upstairs consists of another full bar with an open area in the center overlooking the staircase….
"A must see unique feature in this restaurant are the oyster shell walls in the upstairs men's room” (halfshelloysterhouse.com).

The first Half Shell was opened in Gulfport, MS, and, in addition to Biloxi, there are also restaurants in Hattiesburg, MS and Sarasota, FL. The brain behind these restaurants, along with others in the Gulfport area, is Bob Taylor, President of the Gulf Coast Restaurant Group. He “…began working in the food service industry at the age of 16. During college at the University of Tennessee, he worked at Ruby Tuesday. After graduating with a degree in Business Administration, he entered management. As Bob steadily climbed the corporate ladder, he moved to different locations throughout the South to open new restaurants. He became a General Manager in 1984 and remained with Ruby Tuesday until 1990. In 1994, Bob went to work for Outback Steakhouse and transferred to the Coast, where he opened the beach location. It quickly became one of the most popular dining establishments in the area. Bob remained with Outback until hurricane Katrina entered the picture, when the restaurant was decimated by the storm surge” (Nancy Marchbanks at gotoplaces.wordpress.com).

The downstairs dining room was packed at lunch, and at one table sat a group of eleven or twelve local politicos. How do I know? Because I recognized one of them whose name I won’t reveal and will accord him/her the anonymity he/she deserves. And what does it say that at least five at that table ordered the steamed broccoli as their side? Inquiring minds want to know.
The lunch menu had a number of interesting selections like the Chicken Half Shell (fresh chicken breast sautéed in an alfredo sauce with sundried tomatoes, capers, and artichoke hearts), the Seafood Stuffed Portabella (portabella mushroom stuffed with lump crabmeat, shrimp, minced chipotle peppers, roasted red peppers, and spinach), the Fried Green Tomato BLT, and Seafood Pasta (shrimp, lump crabmeat, and crawfish sautéed with shallots, portabella mushrooms, garlic, and seasonings and tossed with alfredo and linguini).

Chuck ordered the Seafood Pot Pie.
While he wasn’t enamored with the browned buttermilk crust, he did like the filling of shrimp, crawfish, crabmeat, corn, peas, and carrots in a traditional creamy pot pie filling.
His choice of side—Cajun boiled fried new potatoes with garlic and parmesan cheese—was over the top.
The potatoes had been cooked in spicy Cajun seasonings and then fried and tossed with the garlic and cheese. And at the bottom of the dish sat a pool of butter seasoned by the spices and garlic that came in handy later.

I ordered the Royal Reds—a deep water shrimp that are popular along the Gulf Coast, but with which I was totally unfamiliar.
“…Not a great deal is known about the Royal Red shrimp that are found in the deep water 120 to 130 miles due south of Orange Beach (AL). So little is known about them that those folks who study such things aren’t even sure where else in the world, if anywhere, you can find these glorious creatures. Their range in the Gulf may extend to Texas, but they aren’t even sure about that.

“They were discovered, by all things, by the federal government about 30 years ago during some sort of scientific exploration or other. They were dragging nets in deep water looking for goodness knows what when they hauled up a load of these red shrimp. Soon after a band of hearty shrimpers started harvesting them and a hungry public quickly discovered a new and very tasty member of the shrimp family. Still, the cost of getting to them and bringing them to the boat limits the number of shrimpers who will make the trek to get them.

“They look like shrimp, but with a slightly different shape. The heads are noticeably larger and that means you get less meat; but not much less. And folks in the shrimp business tell me that they don’t travel well, which means if you don’t live near the coast you may not have ever heard of them. What, you ask, do they taste like? Easy answer is shrimp, but that would be selling them short. They are, to me, silky and rich with a consistency not unlike lobster” (David Holloway at al.com).

The shrimp in my order were large, easy to peel, had been cooked with a light amount of seasonings and came with a cup of clarified butter for dipping. Yes, they did taste a bit like lobster, but I missed the salty and briny flavor that you can find in a good Gulf shrimp. I did find that dredging them through the seasoned butter at the bottom of Chuck’s potato dish did perk them up a bit. And I found the texture a bit off-putting. I like the “snap” of biting into a good fresh shrimp. I am not sure that I would order them again. But then, I wouldn’t turn down a plate of them either.

Had I been ordering something else—a chicken dish for example—I would have chosen the grilled asparagus with gorgonzola cheese. But I wasn’t sure how the strong cheese would match the mild shrimp. So, instead I ordered the sweet potato brûlée—a dish of sweet potatoes mashed with brown sugar and cinnamon and then topped with more brown sugar and a large dollop of butter.
Talk about having dessert before your dessert. These were delicious, but oh so sweet.

So sweet that I scrapped the idea of the cinnamon roll bread pudding for dessert and suggested that we instead share a slice of key lime pie.
This was just the tangy and refreshing finish that the meal needed.

Again, I am torn about my rating. The Royal Reds may not have been my thing, but I have to admit that they were impeccably prepared and other diners may love them. So I guess I’ll award 4.5 Addies since the rest of the meal was outstanding.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.