Huge appetite for shrimp

AUGUST 30, 2011

Some of the area's best
Shrimp PlateBy Jay Furst

Shrimp is a big deal at the Old Mill Restaurant in Austin. As the dining tide continues to turn toward seafood from steaks and chops, a lot of restaurants, including Dave Forland's Old Mill are finding that shrimp is a winner.
"We go through about 50 pounds of shrimp a week and we're not that big," says Dave, who bought the historic building over-looking the Cedar River at the Austin Utilities dam almost 25 years ago. "Lately people are more seafood=oriented. It used to be it was all about the beef, but now we're doing a lot of halibut, sea bass, ahi tuna, orange roughy..."
And a lot of shrimp. Which is why this Four Stars column casts a wide net for four excellent places in the Rochester area to enjoy the sea's most popular food after fish. You can find beer-battered shrimp or shrimp cocktail on just about any restaurant menu, and at least an entree or two as well. My goal was to find four options, either appetizer or entree, that brings out the distinctive flavor and freshness of shrimp.
The Four Stars: The Old Mill, Outback and Pescara in Rochester, and Nosh in Lake City.
Dave has been beer-battering shrimp at the Old Mill since just about 1988, he says, "We do it the old-fashioned way---with good shrimp, homemade beer batter" and a lot of practice. He uses a good-sized black tiger shrimp from Bangladesh, currently---13/15 size, which means 13 to 15 shrimp per pound---and while he's not giving away his batter recipe, he uses Summit IPA for the brew.
Good beer and the pro-cooked batter-fried shrimp are only two reasons that the Old Mill is an area landmark. "It's just a unique atmosphere, " says Dave, who's 50 and grew up in Austin, working in restaurants since he was 15. "It's comfortable. You can tell people feel comfortable here, which can be a bad thing for me, because we only have about 20 tables and we don't have a real good table-turn..."
That just means they need more room, and Dave's working on a plan to remodel the top floor of the mill building, parts of which date from the 1850's for more dining or cocktails. Here's what I was looking for in Four Stars-caliber shrimp:
It has to be impeccably fresh. You can fool all the people some of the time, etc., but it's easy to tell if shrimp has spent too much time in the freezer, even when it's deep-fried. The firmness is just as important as the flavor.
Don't drown the delicate shrimp flavor in the oil, batter or sauce.
If you're using shrimp in a pasta entree, for example, make sure the shrimp is the star, not the pasta.
Dave does it right, including the shrimp scampi, where he uses slightly smaller shrimp, butterflies them and bakes them in a garlic butter that doesn't overpower the seafood, or your dining companions..."