Perhaps this renewed love affair doesn’t quite rise to the level of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick finding Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa in “Casablanca” — “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” — but it is pretty darned close. My beloved corn-fried shrimp are coming back to the Georgia Sea Grill on St. Simons Island. (“Of all the eateries in all the towns in all the world, they saunter into mine.”) Cue Sam and the piano.
The little critters and I go back a long way to the original opening of the exquisite little Georgia Sea Grill a number of years ago. It was love at first sight. The shrimp even forgave me for a slightly incorrect description of whom they were.
Officially, they were known on the menu as corn-battered fried shrimp, but in my eagerness to introduce them to the world, I called them corn-fried shrimp. The shrimp did not seem to mind. They knew that since I couldn’t put commas where they belong, there was a good chance that I would screw their name up, too. They were right.
Still, it was a mutually beneficial relationship. They gave me great eating pleasure. I gave them a high profile.
Over the years, I have made more speeches around the state than a politician stumping for re-election. I always leave time for questions and answers, encouraging the audience to test my knowledge of current events. Yet one of the more frequently asked questions has been, “What is corn-fried shrimp?”
I am told that no less a personage than the late Griffin Bell, former U.S. attorney general, came into the Sea Grill one evening and declared, “I want some of those shrimp Dick Yarbrough is always talking about.” Talk about a puffed-up bunch of shrimp.
And then, as fate would have it, the Georgia Sea Grill came under new ownership and moved a couple of blocks up the street from its original location in the St. Simons village. Inexplicably, the corn-fried shrimp were not invited along. I was stunned. The Georgia Sea Grill without corn-fried shrimp is like Damon without Pythias, Rick without Ilsa, Homer without Jethro.
I must say that I was a happy camper when Zack Gowen, the owner of the Georgia Sea Grill, informed me last week that the shrimp were returning to their rightful place on the menu. But why did they ever leave in the first place?
“We had a new chef,” Gowen said, “and he wanted to try some new things. I let him give it a shot.”
That chef is now gone, and Gowen has decided to bring back some of the traditional fare that has been associated with the Georgia Sea Grill over the years, including shrimp Berardi, coconut silk pie and, yes, corn-fried shrimp.
“We will continue to add new things to our menu, but our customers told us they would like to see some of their old favorites back as well,” he said.
“We get a lot of feedback from customers,” he said. “Text messages, emails, even comments to our employees when they are out around town.”
Did that include asking where the corn-fried shrimp is?
“Oh, yes,” he said, laughing. “We had a lot of people ask about the shrimp.”
Hmm. Could it have been something I said?
“When we placed the shrimp back on the menu, we added the word ‘Georgia’ so that customers and local people will know that we are supporting our local fishermen and not importing shrimp from outside locations,” Gowen says.
Corn-fried Georgia shrimp. Even misstated, that has a nice ring to it.
We were unable to celebrate New Year’s Eve with our friends at the Georgia Sea Grill this year, as has been our custom for many years, because the Woman Who Shares My Name was grounded after a bad fall and resultant surgery and rehabilitation. When she is free to travel again, we plan to celebrate our own private New Year’s Eve with a helping of corn-fried Georgia shrimp. I don’t think the date will matter to the shrimp. For them, it will be just another day at the office.
I am glad to welcome the corn-fried Georgia shrimp back to town. I have missed them even though they should never have left in the first place. But let us not focus on the past. As Bogart’s Rick told Claude Rains’ Capt. Renault, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Contact Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; and online at dickyarbrough.com or facebook.com/dickyarb.