It’s challenging to review a restaurant when the new normal requires social distancing and sheltering in place at home.
It wasn’t like I had the dilemma of how to visit the restaurant and sample its food, service and ambiance, because I’d already done that long before self-isolation became de rigueur. But in the case of Shrimps, a Brookland Park Boulevard gem that deserves a wider audience, that it’s one of the restaurants choosing to forge on and offer takeout food and curbside pickup makes it worth knowing about now more than ever.
You can call in your order and pick it up at the curb or allow Grubhub to do the honors. Inside the restaurant, gray wood paneling and one marine blue wall provide the setting for seven tables and a small bar usually occupied by people collecting to-go orders. And that was even before toilet paper became scarce. A Bubba Gump quote on the back wall serves as fair warning that Shrimps is all about the seafood while smooth jazz playing overhead serves as a reminder to take a deep breath. We will get through this.
As befitting a neighborhood fish shack, Shrimps sticks to mostly fish and seafood, with enough token offerings — a burger, a Philly cheesesteak and chicken wings — to mollify those less enthused by the bounty of the sea. You can’t go wrong with an order of crab balls, tasting of seasoned crabmeat and boasting occasional lumps of crabmeat in addition to fin, inside a light, crispy exterior. We’d have hit repeat for a second round of them if we hadn’t already ordered so much more food.
If this is your first Shrimps outing, the BP Sampler ($9.99) will ably demonstrate what a deft touch this kitchen has with the fryer. Chicken wingettes, petite fish fillets and shrimp, three of each, show up expertly fried with a light breading cooked to golden brown. House-made tartar and cocktail sauces provide the requisite counterpoints in flavor and texture.
Every fish shack worth its cornbread should have baskets on the menu and here you’ll find shrimp, whitefish, chicken, catfish and lake trout in basket form with your choice of fries or fried potatoes. Personally, I take the measure of a fish shack by its fried shrimp basket ($9.99). Crispy-fried and not the least bit greasy, the six shrimp were a master class in frying. Ditto the fish po’boy ($8.99), although between the multiple fish fillets and an oozing layer of fried onions, peppers and cheese, it makes the most sense when you’re seriously hungry.
A crabcake sandwich ($11.99), grilled or fried, fully delivers on the kitchen’s earlier tease with the crab balls, showcasing sweet lump and fin crabmeat delicately seasoned and set off by the simplicity of lettuce and tomato. A first cousin of the crabcake, the salmon burger ($9.99) offers up an appealing diversion to the ubiquity of salmon fillets on restaurant menus. Because I grew up eating them — we were a fish-on-Friday family — I’m always surprised when someone has never had one given how simple yet tasty they can be.
Not everything at Shrimps is between bread or in a basket, so when you need some serious comfort food, turkey chops ($12.99) are the way to go. Just don’t ask me to explain the chops part. Medallions of turkey breast are smothered in Shrimps’ house-made gravy, which, where I come from, all but demands that one of your two sides be mashed potatoes. Among the other choices, collard greens, mac and cheese and potato salad — the latter done in what could be called “grandma-style” given the high ratio of sweet pickle juice and absence of hard-cooked eggs — are all solid options that won’t disappoint.
Given that we’re a long way from being able to be sociable again, there’s little point in mentioning that Shrimps has a cocktail list as well as beer and wine offerings, but it does. It also has cake slices for dessert when available.
Assuming that restaurants like Shrimps can continue serving the eating public curbside and via delivery, now would be a stellar time for the hungry and homebound to try something new and support a small business during a terribly difficult time. And with the economy still reeling, the affordability of every item on the menu is worth noting. Chances are, you’ll thank me from the comfort of your home with your very first bite.
Mondays – Wednesdays noon - 9 p.m.
Thursdays – Saturdays noon - 10 p.m.
17 W. Brookland Park Blvd.