Posted by: adventuressetravels | July 17, 2010

Shrimp With an Attitude

I had feasted on peaches and the delicacies of Georgia road-fare, gone to the wilds of Tybee Island in search of a seafood gumbo, all before exploring the restaurants of downtown Savannah.  In a way this stands to reason, as I tend to veer as far off the beaten path as possible in search of local flavor.   This however is not to say that I don’t enjoy brushing the dust off and making my appearance on the main drag on occasion.

I had been to a few restaurants and bars, downtown.  A sandwich here, a frozen drink there.  I even tried quite a decent pizza at the Mellow Mushroom called the Kosmic Karma. It was no New York pizza, but even I had to admit the toppings were impressive.  But through it all I’d managed to avoid the overpriced restaurants on the riverfront like the plague.  

Still, my time in the South was drawing to a close.  I had checked off most of the things on my list of culinary musts but crawfish was still there.  I may not have gotten to try gumbo, but I needed to try those little crustaceans.  If one thing was native to the south it was that. 

M had been telling me he had to take me to his favorite bar, JJ Bones, since I arrived.  The way he described it certainly was intriguing.  According to him, it was the epitome of everything southern.  Big portions of food, huge drafts of beer, and complimentary peanuts on every table. 

“Ya jus crack ta peanuts opin an throw ta shells on ta floor.  The floor’s covered in shells!”

Did they have crawfish?  That was my only question.

M was pretty sure they did, so we headed downtown. 

From halfway down the block you could see the big blackboard placard advertising JJ Bones as the best Ribs and Wings joint in town.  I started to laugh, meat, meat, and more meat… what could be more southern than that?  It seemed to be my luck in the South.

M wasn’t ready to admit defeat.  Maybe they had crawfish too, he suggested.  Anyway, I had to see the peanut shells on the floor, and the rustic décor of his favorite bar.

We entered the dark cavernous dark room.  My imagination had painted a picture of the floor crackling across a thick carpet of peanut shells, a strata if you will, deposited over years, decades, centuries by the Savannah Locals.  The loud raucous bar would be filled with stubbly, tobacco-chewing, smoking southerners, loudly voicing their racist views, drinking beer, and throwing their peanut shells on the floor.  Of course there would be the obligatory live country musician coming from the corner, it changed nightly- from banjo players strumming the theme to Deliverance to the country musicians singing about their woman troubles.  This bar was not that bar.

Not a single customer sat at the flimsy tables scattered around the room.  The few peanut shells that were scattered in flimsy circles around each table looked as if they had fallen there in the past couple of days.  The three bartenders standing behind the conspicuously empty bar that dominated the room practically fell over themselves to help us.

They didn’t have crawfish.  But if we wanted onion rings they friend those in vegetable oil, the female bartender made her best play at getting us to stay and eat, or at least drink a few beers.

I wasn’t taken in.  As politely as I could I asked the girl if she knew where I could get crawfish in town.

“She’s a vegetarian,” M said giving the bartenders a look as if he were apologizing for his mentally-handicapped sister’s outburst.

They fell over themselves suggesting seafood restaurants racking their brains trying to think of any place that might have crawfish. There were lots on River Street, we should try the hotels, we should try this restaurant or that restaurant.  Well, probably just walking down River Street was our best bet.  Their desire to get us to stay had changed so quickly it was almost as if they felt having a vegetarian or pescatarian in the bar was something that could rub off on them.  One of those people.

I thanked them for their helpfulness.  Just as I was starting to leave the third bartender moved to the front of the bar.

“Hey… hey,” he said under his breath, quietly trying to get my attention.  I gave him a curious look.

As if relaying the location of a speakeasy the bartender leaned in close.  In a voice barely above a whisper he gave me the information “If you don’t find crawfish on the river there’s a vegetarian restaurant on Abercorn called Ambrosia.”  With that he evaporated back into the shadows of the bar, leaving me thoroughly amused.  There really was a prejudice against anyone who didn’t eat red meat here, wasn’t there?

I couldn’t help laughing as we left the bar and followed their directions down to River Street.  We made our way down the cobblestoned street looking at one seafood restaurant after another.  The menus posted in front were impressive; fish was glazed, lacquered, and blackened.  They served Chilean sea bass, lobster, Ahi tuna, and any number of high-dollar entrees.  Fish from every corner of the earth.  Every corner but one; conspicuously missing from the menus was any hint of local cuisine. 

We walked for blocks and blocks, me getting hungrier by the minute.  I fervently hoped that this would not be a repeat of the gumbo fiasco.  At least we had a back-up plan this time.  Just when I was ready to give up all hope of finding crawfish in the South and head to Ambrosia, I saw a little bar with an unassuming front.  There wasn’t a menu out front so I walked down a few steps into Bernie’s Oyster House. 

The place was bustling, filled to capacity with people laughing, eating, drinking; all clearly having a wonderful time.  It was all I could do to find someone to ask about crawfish. To my surprise and delight the answer was yes.  They had great crawfish there and amazingly one last table for two.

The waitress brought me a heaping plate of crawfish, corn on the cob, and hush puppies. I tried the hush puppies first.  After all, I had never heard of them, but apparently they were extremely common in the south.  When I bit into the little ball of fried corn meal couldn’t believe how good it was.  Crunchy exterior, slightly sweet interior, and all delicious.  It didn’t make sense that they weren’t more common in other parts of the country.  Hush puppies at fast food restaurants, hush puppies as side dishes in restaurants.  The possibilities were endless!

When I had gotten over the initial hush puppy discovery, it was time to turn my attention to my reason for being there; the crawfish.   Crawfish, shrimp with an attitude, were nothing like what I expected. They did look similar to lobster but they had a completely unique taste.  It was a distinct almost musky flavor that I could only describe as wild. This was what I had been looking for; the flavor of voodoo, bayous, of the South.  The real South. 

As I pulled the meat out of the tails I could completely understand why they were widely referred to as shrimp with an attitude.  I wouldn’t want to be up against the wrong end of one of these characters.  I left the restaurant practically in a food coma, thoroughly pleased that I had finally gotten to experience a real southern meal.

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Responses

  1. […] was seeking out and eating Southern specialty foods.  I found myself drooling over her recent post Shrimp with an Attitude, about her quest for crawfish.  I especially loved her descriptions of people’s reactions to […]

  2. I hope you got the crash course in the “proper” way to eat these babies.. Did you leave with broth/butter running down to your elbows like I did? Great doesn’t begin to describe these little devils. So happy you found a great source.

    • haha actually had to ask the waitress but yes, I practically needed a shower after my delicious first encounter.


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