Rick Millians

Rick Millians

Like Bubba Blue was saying in “Forrest Gump,” shrimp is the fruit of the sea. 

“You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it,” Bubba said. “(There’s) shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.”

And then Bubba went on. And on.

You remember the movie. 

I was at the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry — Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island — for a wedding a couple of weeks ago. I might have been standing in Florida, but I could still see Georgia from the northern tip of the island. It made me feel better.

All the island restaurants feature local wild-caught shrimp. So, I figured, maybe I could out-shrimp Bubba. 

The plan was to eat shrimp for seven meals in a row — breakfast included — and I’m not going to leave you wondering any longer. I succeeded with flying colors.

My inspiration was my friend Charles Middlebrooks, who ate lobster for just about every meal for five days in a row on a trip to Maine a few years ago. I failed at keeping up with Charles then and ordered chicken or beef — I can’t remember — on about the third day. But this time, I left Charles way behind in a pile of shrimp shells.

The ground rules were simple: a different shrimp dish at each meal. And, of course, no chain restaurants. Nothing like the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant — too touristy. It had to be a mom-and-pop, off-the-beaten-path, local color — as I like to call them — restaurant. The kind with outdoor seating, ocean breeze in your face, and sand on the floor.

To boot, the 57th Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival was going on in downtown Fernandina Beach the three days we were there. Thousands descended on the town for food, live music, arts and crafts. Hundreds of men, women and children — mostly women — were dressed in pirate costumes. Ahoy, mate!

My favorite attraction was a guy named George, who had set up his lawn chair on the sidewalk under an umbrella. He was beside a sign that read FREE ADVICE in big letters. In smaller letters, it read: 

No Politics/No Religion

Accept/Reject; Your Choice

There was a crowd around him, some wearing Florida Gator T-shirts.

I said: “How ‘Bout Them National Champion Dawgs!”

I should have added: Warning! Reject at risk of being barked at!

But, a little SEC football aside, let’s get to some details of my shrimp-apalooza. Counting down my favorites:

7. Grilled shrimp eggs benedict: Ms. Carolyn’s. A classic Amelia Island breakfast spot, Ms. Carolyn’s cinnamon rolls were better. 

6. Shrimp and Grits: Shuckers Oyster Bar and Grill. This place has a great view of the Intercoastal Waterway. The menu described their shrimp and grits as famous, but I found them to be a bit on the tasteless side.

5. Fried shrimp: Salt Life Seafood Shack. Not bad, but not among the best fried shrimp I’ve ever had, either. But the location close to the beach is great, with plenty of outdoor dining and a rooftop bar.

4. Shrimp and crab omelette: Beach Diner. It was meaty and tasty, but the home fries with onions that came with it were even better. The Beach Diner also features “Bubba Specials” — like THE ULTIMATE, featuring two eggs, home fries topped with cheese, grits topped with cheese, bacon, sausage and pancakes — for the big breakfast eaters. I’m not sure which Bubba is being honored, but he’s got to be large if he’s regularly eating THE ULTIMATE. 

3. Low country boil: Sandollar. This one had shrimp, crab legs, mussels, clams, scallops, crawfish, sausage, corn and red potatoes. And plenty of melted butter for dipping. Shoe leather would taste good in melted butter. This place is just south of Amelia Island on the St. John’s River, so you can watch massive cargo ships glide by.

2. Fried shrimp, blackened grilled shrimp and shrimp tacos: Timoti’s Seafood Shak. OK, we went a little crazy after a morning of walking around at the Shrimp Festival. It’s tucked away on a downtown Fernandina Beach side street but well worth finding. Coastal Living Magazine called Timoti’s one of their favorite seafood dives in the U.S. They’re right. 

1. Peel and eat boiled shrimp: Slider’s Seaside Grill. Its outdoor dining spills out onto the beach, making it come as you are in bathing suits or whatever. The boiled shrimp were warm and tender; the cold cocktail sauce spiked with horseradish and hot sauce was a perfect accompaniment. The sweet hush puppies were the best I had on the island. No wonder Florida Travel & Leisure Magazine named it one of the Top 10 beach bars in Florida.

All that, and we didn’t put a dent in the seafood restaurants on Amelia Island. I’ll try more next time. 

That’s all I gotta say about shrimp, as Forrest Gump himself might say.

Rick Millians, a 1970 Baldwin High graduate, worked at newspapers in Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina before retiring. Reach him at rdmillians@aol.com

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