By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
They had me at fried olives.
Stuffed with demure little pimientos, these Vigo queens get a basic crumb batter (think breaded zucchini or mozzarella sticks) and a zap into the deep fryer, then they're heaped into a Styrofoam box with a plastic tub of zingy remoulade. Salty, blisteringly hot, they defy you to stop eating them. For $2.95.
The new Wild Shrimp Company, a little shack/store fronting the Haslam's bookstore parking lot, has an immense funk factor. Decor includes a stuffed monkey, a cap gun out of ammo and menus festooned with pictures of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi (except the idea here is, "no gumbo for you"). Its location is no accident, situated a little more than half a mile from Bama Sea Products, its chief purveyor and muse.
Owners James Walton and Todd Felix have built their concept around the small, sweet wild gulf shrimp Bama sells. They come, like the olives, crumb-battered and deep-fried, paired with horseradish-powered cocktail sauce, a sweet, cakey corn muffin and a Styrofoam container of red beans and rice heavy on the smoky sausage. All that stuff I just listed? $5.95.
Or, assuming the Gumbo Nazi lets you, you can have the shrimp studding a bowl of gumbo ($4.95) or among the mayhem of chicken, sausage, etc. that crowd the rice in house jambalaya ($4.25). (Similar, really, these two offerings are nicely flavored, the gumbo like a roux-thickened soup, the jambalaya more rice intensive.)
It's an order-at-the-window place, everything packed to go (although things can be promptly unpacked onto one of the two umbrellaed outdoor tables). The rest of the menu is rounded out with conch fritters (a little chewy, $5.25) and a few traditional, Big Easy-style po' boys ($5.50), stuffed with those tasty fried shrimp, chicken or fried mahi. Hey, wonder if they've thought of a fried olive po' boy?
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.