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RESTAURANT OF THE WEEK
KEY WEST SHRIMP
Our meal here was a slight disappointment but then again it had to have been. Let me explain.
Remember your favorite restaurant as a youngster/teen/young adult? What if it disappeared and reappeared years later in a different city. It could never be the same as the original. You'd be somewhat disappointed right?
The original Key West Shrimp House opened on South Madison Avenue in Indianapolis in 1950. Growing up in the 60s and 70s this was my favorite restaurant. My dad was close friends with the owner, Claude Kendall. When we would dine there Mr. Kendall would always come over to our table and say to my dad: "Hey Bob, have you tried (this or that)? I just got some in. Let me have the chef prepare it for you." And Mr. Kendall would bring us a free sample. Often he would comp our entire meal because of his friendship with my father.
Through the years I took all my prom dates there including the prom date who became and still is my wife. The food was tremendous and the traditions were endearing.
To start off with there was a crock of highly seasoned dill pickle sections. They were really hot to the mouth but delicious. There were some all time favorites including the Chef's Special (French fried shrimp and Shrimp Panama with bacon wrapped around the shrimp and simmered in a tangy barbecue sauce), Seafood Norfolk (finely chopped shrimp, lobster and crab served in a buttery, peppery sauce and with a shot of sherry to be added at the diner's discretion) and the all time favorite Captain's Table. And back then each entre came with a cup of creamy and rich lobster chowder. Later it became shrimp chowder but it was still excellent. The traditional end of the meal came with a couple of small little cakes about an inch wide and two inches long, as I remember.
The owners of the new Key West Shrimp House in Madison have tried to pretty much recreate the old shrimp house and they've come close. And just as we were seated something really jogged my memory. A basket of fried garlic bread with herbs immediately was brought to the table. This was one thing I had forgotten about at the old Key West Shrimp House. This is regular white bread deep fried in oil with flavorings and then cut in half. Just like the original!
The "new" shrimp house is on a little hill overlooking, more or less, the Ohio River. It's a pleasant setting in a beautiful little and historic town.
We started our Sunday dinner with a half pound of peel and eat shrimp. They were very good and we asked that they be served hot. At the original shrimp house these were always Key West pink shrimp. Were these domestic or Asian imports? I honestly don't know but I suspect they were from the U.S. At any rate they were good.
For my main course I got the fried seafood platter. It came with a big chunk of fried cod, a couple of scallops, three or four nice butterflied shrimp, two frog legs and a heaping pile of fried clam strips. The shrimp were great. The scallops good. The fish good. For clam strips, these were big unlike cheaper little strands you find at so many places. The standout on this plate were the frog legs. Absolutely outstanding!
My wife chose Seafood Norfolk, an old favorite of both of us. Unlike the original version which consisted of finely chopped (almost minced) shrimp, lobster and crab in a buttery sauce and offered with a shot of sherry, the new version came without the sherry and the seafood was in very large chunks. They explained that Indiana law doesn't like a meal served with alcohol for fear that minors might order it. Indiana is one of the most obnoxious states in the nation when it comes to being anal with alcohol laws. Anyway, my wife said it was very good.
We each ordered the "double baked potato," something we had enjoyed in the 70s. These weren't as good as I remembered them but okay. You have a choice of onion bouillon with your meal or, for a slight extra charge, you can upgrade to the seafood chowder, which is what we did. The chowder was good but again not as good as I remember it. Mine didn't have much seafood flavor. At least to me it didn't. My wife thought her's did have an excellent seafood taste.
I passed on dessert and my wife chose a piece of Key Lime Pie. This was a complete miss. Anybody who knows anything about Key Lime Pie knows that it must be yellow in color to be genuine. That's because Key Limes produce yellow and not green juice. This pie was a thick moose and was blue green in color. While it wasn't even on the same planet with genuine Key Lime Pie, it was still tasty.
From the Detroit suburbs, where we live, it was a 350 mile ride to get to the restaurant. Was it worth it? Yes, for folks like us who enjoyed the original KWSH so many years ago.
Bottom line is this. If you're ever in the Madison area and would like a pleasant seafood meal with roots dating back to the 50s, you might want to give this place a try. Their website complete with menu is here.