Who can forget Forrest Gump's lovable "best good friend," Bubba? Without him, we'd probably never be so familiar with the countless ways to prepare shrimp: barbecued, boiled, broiled, baked, sauteed, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo.
But let's face it. Like most food, shrimp tastes best when fried. Even though the clam shacks are shuttered for the winter, you can still find great fried shrimp on many landlubber menus here in Connecticut.
Side Street Grille
15 Dickerman St., Hamden
Coconut and buffalo shrimp, $8.95 per order
Just a few minutes from Quinnipiac University, this full-of-personality neighborhood pub serves up three varieties of fried shrimp: regular, with tartar and/or cocktail sauce; coconut, with a spicy marmalade; and buffalo, paired with chunky bleu cheese and celery sticks. We chose flavor over tradition and weren't disappointed. Each order consisted of ten huge, tender shrimp. The coconut ones were coated in a thick batter with tasty coconut shreds. Incredibly delicious on their own, they were even better with the dipping sauce.
Their buffalo counterparts were a scrumptious alternative to the ubiquitous chicken wing. Breaded lightly and slathered in sauce, the hot shrimp cooled off nicely with the bleu cheese. The standard buffalo sauce had a definite kick, but for those who like to sweat, the menu also offers a "Demon" heat option. Proceed with caution.
Uno Chicago Grill
1500 New Britain Ave, Westfarms Mall, Farmington
Fried shrimp trio appetizer, $7.49
Uno Chicago Grill is legendary for its deep-dish pizzas, so we were surprised to see a fried-shrimp trio on their appetizer list. The menu promised three great tastes: buttermilk-battered, mango-ginger, and pineapple-orange, with sides of cocktail sauce and sweet Mandarin dressing. The platter contained twelve small shrimp and one side of cocktail sauce--but nothing resembling Mandarin. The buttermilk coating was nice and crunchy, but just a little too reminiscent of fried chicken.
The remaining shrimp could probably be best described as vaguely fruit-flavored, as there was no clear distinction between mango-ginger and pineapple-orange. Overall, the appetizer was decent, but next time, we'll stick to the pizza.
284 North Maple St., Enfield
Coconut shrimp appetizer special, $7.99
Buona Vita ("The Good Life") is hidden away in a tiny plaza about a mile from the Massachusetts border, but the parking lot is jam-packed every Friday night. Regulars love their creative pizzas and pastas and enormous portions of classic Italian favorites. Every so often, a coconut shrimp appetizer pops up on the specials menu, to the sheer delight of those in the know.
The portion consists of five fat shrimp on a plate sprinkled with decorative parsley and swirled with a light marmalade. The shrimp are coated in a light, crispy batter, and the coconut flavor melds sublimely with the citrusy sauce. One taste and you'll start a campaign to make this appetizer permanent.
270 Farmington Avenue #101, Farmington
(The Exchange Building)
Shrimp tempura appetizer, $6.00
If you've never had tempura, you're missing out. This Japanese delicacy is so light and airy that you'll forget you're eating something batter-dipped and fried. Japanica's tempura appetizer is no exception. Three large elongated shrimp, accompanied by two pieces of fried vegetables, arrived with a side of soy sauce for dipping. The shrimp was flawlessly fresh and crunchy, complemented well by the salty soy. And the tempura-battered broccoli and carrot pieces prove that most things are indeed better fried--these would probably satisfy the most die-hard veggiephobes.
As if the fried goodness wasn't reason enough to return, Japanica sweetened the deal with two complimentary dishes of coconut and chocolate ice cream. Sometimes, the calories are just so worth it.
99 Restaurant & Pub
54 Hazard Avenue, Enfield
Calypso coconut shrimp appetizer, $6.99
"The Caribbean's finest!" proclaims the menu. And since I can't exactly swing a ticket to the islands (grad school is expensive, you know) these ten large coconut-battered shrimp with a tangy-sweet tropical dipping sauce were a nice alternative. Extra coconut flakes garnishing the shrimp enhanced the exotic flavor--if you're a coconut fan, you're in for a treat.
Pair this starter with a margarita or the 99's 23-oz. Barbados Breeze cocktail, and you can almost taste the sun, sand, and surf. No SPF required.
About the writer: Leeanne Griffin is a freelance writer and a graduate journalism student at Quinnipiac University. A native of Worcester, Mass., she enjoys food in all forms, reality TV, irreverent humor, and a nice, full-bodied Shiraz...but not necessarily in that order.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun