Four Stars: Huge appetite for shrimp
This month's Four Stars restaurant column picks a quartet of area restaurants that feature shrimp in all its permutations.
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 overlooking 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 bring 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 1850s, 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 in 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.
Coming up next in Four Stars: Where to find the berry best piesin Southeast Minnesota. Last year, I picked four great places for apple pie, and on Sept. 27, I'll direct you to the most tangy berry pies, in the flakiest crusts, that you'll find anywhere in the area.
Send me your tips on where to start — I have a lot of pie to eat between now and then.
The Four Stars of shrimp
Old Mill Restaurant
54446 244th St., Austin
The Old Mill has been an old favorite for area diners since well before Dave Forland took over in the late '80s. There's no place quite like it, perched as it is on the edge of the Cedar River and the power dam, and it's rich with history and good food.
Dave has one of the best beer lists around and he puts the brew to good use in the beer-batter shrimp ($18.95), with big shrimp puffed up and coated in a whisper-light batter made with Summit IPA. Start things right with the Spam dunkers ($7.95) — just about only found in Austin, which is a cryin' shame.
1201 S. Broadway, Rochester
The table tents at the Aussie-themed Outback say, "Don't be shellfish — share your coconut shrimp," but that's easier said than done. It's a spicy-sweet and reasonably priced appetizer at $8.99, and if you play your cards right, you'll catch it at happy hour — our server was exceptionally eager to make adjustments and keep the customer happy.
You might not think the Creole marmalade is the right match at first, but it's a refreshing change from the customary tomato sauce. Also fail-safe is the Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie appetizer, which surprisingly enough is new to the menu. There are other shrimp combos on the menu as well.
150 S. Broadway, Rochester
Yes, yes, Pescara again, but I can't help it: The Fra Diavolo pasta and shrimp is fantastic and at 20 bucks it's one of the best deals on the menu. It's primarily a pasta dish, but the shrimp is definitely not second fiddle — the perfectly cooked angel hair pasta is decorated around the edges with the richly sauteed shrimp and dressed with a peppery red sauce, basil and Parmesan.
A good pasta dish leaves you completely satisfied but doesn't fill you up, which is exactly what this one does. Start with a simple mixed green salad ($7), with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, balsamic and grilled crostini, and you'll have just enough appetite left for the flourless chocolate torte with blood oranges, chantilly and candied orange peel (also $7).
310 1/2 Washington St., Lake City
If you haven't tried Nosh, you're missing one of the two or three most innovative dining rooms in the region. You'll find stuff on the Nosh menu that nobody else is doing, such as grilled octopus salad and lamb ribeye, and it changes by the day.
The small plate list typically includes garlic shrimp, a simple but exquisitely prepared ramikin of marinated shrimp in warm garlic butter, priced right at $6.50. It's a small plate, so don't expect jumbo prawns, but you won't be disappointed with the presentation and flavor, especially when paired up with one of Nosh's crisp white wines options and when enjoyed out on the deck, overlooking the Lake City marina.
Agree or disagree? That's what Four Stars is all about. Send your own review of favorite dishes in the area and I'll run them in the Four Stars Feedback column next Tuesday. Send to Four Stars, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903 or email@example.com.