Once the holiday eat-a-thon is over, with our pants a little tighter and our wallets a lot lighter, we can’t escape the urge to find a sweet little spot under a palm tree where we can throw back umbrella drinks and pretend we’re warm. In the dead of winter, Island Shrimp Co. has figured out how to conjure up the same atmosphere that prompts Jimmy Buffet to churn out odes to the flip-flop set.
Despite its setting in a suburban shopping mall, Chesterfield Towne Center, its aqua ocean-going freight containers or reasonable facsimiles hint at a place so relaxing that you need a reason to move.
Oftentimes, a relaxed atmosphere begets relaxed service. Island Shrimp Co. ensures that doesn’t happen by sharing the onus with the clientele. On our first visit, our table of three was matched by a serving team of equal number — one of the three servers was a trainee — so we never felt unattended. Also any gaps in service are fillable with a customer-driven card system. Armed with a bill of fare and a pencil, you place your order by ticking menu items like at a sushi bar. Got a question about the menu? Want a recommendation? Need a drink refill? Slide a card into the cardholder on your table. The cards are a silent equivalent of a summoning hand.
After a day on the hunt for suitable Christmas gifts, we quickly decided that a tropical drink might override holiday pressures. The friend I’d dragged along quickly settled on a pina colada made with the restaurant’s original mix. Served “frozen, not blended,” she declared it a superior stress buster. I bypassed the wine list, can and draft beers and a short but substantial list of specialty drinks to go native with the lime in a coconut, which is exactly that: a hollowed-out coconut filled with its own milk mixed with some lime juice. If you’re not familiar with pure, untouched coconut milk, you might take a pass. It’s mildly salty and bitter and, in our opinion, not helped by the lime juice.
There are people who like shrimp so much that they don’t care how it’s served. There also are purists who don’t like to mask the shrimp’s flavor. This restaurant caters to both. Despite the name, the menu isn’t overly shrimp-centric. Shrimp has its own section of four choices of a half-pound ($12 for 12 pieces) of nearly naked shrimp: coconut fried, garlic with lemon and butter, jerk (chilies, thyme and garlic) or habanero (honey, lime and butter). The coconut fried version topped our list for its even coating of crispy coconut. On a second visit, we couldn’t resist the coconut fried, but we augmented with an order for garlic lemon butter. This kitchen knows the value in not overcooking,
In addition to the simpler preparations, the menu offers shrimp in many creations like Thai wraps dressed up with mango, mint and cucumber, but it also has plenty of shrimpless offerings, like conch fritters ($6) and Cuban spring rolls ($6) that mimic the sandwich with roast pork, ham, cheese and a dill pickle ($6). Our longtime quest for the elusive, freshly made onion rings led us to ask our server about Island’s version.
“The very best!” she gushed. She needs to get out more, we concluded. They were good, but they weren’t even on the same plane compared to O’Tooles.
Desserts were so good that we made sure to keep stomach space free on all of our visits. After our first, we returned knowing not only that we were getting desserts, we knew exactly what we wanted. The Coco Loco macadamia nut white chocolate chip cookie with coconut ice cream topped our list. It comes warm with coconut ice cream melting on top ($6). A caramelized banana split riffs on the classic, topping ice cream with grilled pineapple, chocolate shell, coconut and peanuts ($7). Our least, but still delicious, favorite was Malasadas doughnuts. Five ample balls of fried dough come with three ramekins filled with Nutella, guava and coconut sugar. Aside from wishing the fritters were sweet, it held equal footing with the dipping sauces.
Three visits are a fair sampling, and Island Shrimp never disappointed. Other good grades: Tables are a comfortable distance apart. Even more laudable, there’s a menu heading for fresh pressed juices, and much of the menu is gluten-free.
Reasonable prices, good service and an innovative menu. … Of course, we’ll go back.
Island Shrimp Co.
11500 Midlothian Turnpike
Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.