- Grav Weldon
- A FRIED DISH OF FRIED-NESS: Red Lobster's Crispy Calamari and Vegetables.
I can already hear the groans from the foodist elite amongst our readership. There’s a line that certain folks have forged here between the folks who know food and the sheep… and that line is Red Lobster
For me, this review is a little bit of full circle. When I left my TV job back in 2007, my anchors gave me a Red Lobster gift card as a parting gift. They chose the popular seafood chain for this honor because my husband and I had visited the restaurant once a month for several years. Thing is, once that gift card was used, I wouldn’t head back there for years. I was already deep into my research on Arkansas restaurants, a budding hobby in 2007 that lead to my personal blog, to Eat Arkansas and to all sorts of opportunities since.
I had my own reason for liking what the place had to offer. Crab legs. That really is it. For a while I enjoyed them at Micky’s Bluefish in Conway, then that place closed. I could get them in Hot Springs at Fisherman’s Wharf, but usually when I am in Hot Springs I’m trying restaurants out so I don’t head that way often. I can get King crab legs at Cajun’s Wharf, but I really prefer snow crab… the less expensive choice. Crab legs cheap that I don’t boil up myself at home? Just not a lot of places I can do that.
So when I was offered dinner at a Red Lobster location, I hemmed and hawed and acquiesced because I really did want some damn crab legs. Really.
Of course, we get there and I was immediately disappointed in the menu. It’s a lot smaller than it used to be — and my favorite appetizer, the Ultimate Fondue, was gone. I’d find out later from internet browsing that the formulation had been changed, people didn’t like it and it went away. I do have a recipe for it that’s close… and maybe if someone comes to the house and convinces me to pull out the double boiler I’ll make up some.
Instead, we went for some Crispy Calamari and Vegetables ($8.75), which turned out to be breaded and deep fried calamari rings, broccoli and red bell pepper. They coulda kept the broccoli, but I probably feel that way because I think broccoli anywhere past steamed is only an ingredient. The red bell pepper bits were delicious… and the calamari was… decent. A little heavy on the grease if you ask me, but what the heck. It was all right, especially with a little cocktail sauce.
We kept waiting for our biscuits… and got them when we got our salads. And the salads were fine, just not interesting. The biscuits, though — personally, I believe the Cheddar biscuits that come complimentary with any meal are the main reason folks keep coming back. They are good. They are buttery and cheesy and rich and probably lethal but they are great. And here’s a secret for you. Chicken Mart up in Russellville gets them every once in a while, frozen, six for $3. No instructions on cooking them, but I find that 350 degrees for 12 minutes does it just fine. Same freaking biscuits.
So… my companion chose the Admiral‘s Feast ($17.99), a veritable plethora of battered and deep fried items more identifiable by their shapes than anything else on the outside. The portions were decent — two flat-hand size fillets of flounder, about ¾ cup tiny fried scallops (some of which I stole), about a cup’s worth of crispy clam strips and eight Walt’s Favorite Shrimp, along with a baked potato. A big field of tasty, slightly crispy deep fried brown on a blue rimmed plate.
I had considered the Ultimate Feast ($24.99) with its Walt’s Famous Shrimp, a whole broiled lobster tail, garlic shrimp scampi and crab legs. Thought about it. Then I realized what I really wanted were just the damn crab legs, so that’s what I ordered — a pound of snow crab legs for $17.75 (which included the aforementioned salad and a side item). I got this really weird delivery, too — a casserole dish packed with the steamed legs, a big platter with nothing on it but a ball of “homestyle” mashed potatoes” and a little plate with melted butter, a crab cracking tool and a lemon wedge. And a wet wipe — that’s important, you know.
And for the next 30 minutes or so I happily cracked away at the crab while enjoying a conversation… as the dang restaurant emptied out around us. Indeed, we were the last people out the door, about three minutes before actual closing time.
Were the crab legs good? They were… but then again, they were crab legs. They were just lightly seasoned and served up and really, all the work was up to me. I guess I’m like the old guys who like to crack and eat pecans or peanuts rather than let someone else do it for them. I just like that.
The bill was in the $50 range. My companion had leftovers. It was all right.
I can see why people get into the habit of going to this chain. They advertise all over the place. They offer gift cards at Kroger and Wal-Mart. They do all sorts of promotions. For a good portion of the nation, especially away from the coasts, Red Lobster really is the name of seafood for plain folks.
Then again, I’ve learned so much in the past four years. I’ve learned where to find just about any sort of food I’m interested in (well, except Ethiopian; until we get an Ethiopian restaurant somewhere I’m going to have to settle for homemade doro wat) and where to get the best cheap eats. If I’ve tried to do anything with this blog, it’s been to try to educate folks that there are other alternatives for date night eats.
No real need to tell you where Red Lobster is… but of course, I should mention that the North Little Rock location is perennially one of the highest gross-revenue restaurants in the state. Well, there you go. Check out the Red Lobster website if you really need more information.