Bang Bang, Spicy Asian, Bangin' Firecracker Shrimp
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well prepare to witness some fine flattery, my friends.
As the Beasties have been out on the town, sampling the finest seafood on Florida's First Coast (with the occasional side trip), we've noticed a pattern emerging on appetizer menus all across town. It's a little phenom we like to call:
Bang Bang, Spicy Asian, Bing Bang, Bangin' Firecracker Shrimp.
At the heart of this dish is the lovely shrimp. Sweet, tender, slightly chewy. Battered or coated, fried, then lightly sauced with a creamy, sweet, hot Thai Chile inspired sauce. So now you've got sweet, creamy, hot, chewy, salty, crunchy goodness, piled in a dish or on the plate. Simple, yes, but insanely addictive. Thus all the imitation (er, flattery) cropping up all around town.
Let's start with the original. To the best of our knowledge (or at least what we were able to turn up by Googling it), Bonefish Grill is the OG of the Bang Bang Shrimp craze. Or should we say Original Bangsta!
A sweet, spicy, crunchy, chewy, creamy pile of shrimp, garnished with scallion tops and brought steamy hot to your table with a set of chopsticks. Everyone watches as the waiter navigates through the room with this dish, and then its like a chain reaction - ooohhh - I want THAT!
We love Bang Bang Shrimp. So much so, we hardly ever eat anything else at Bonefish. A couple of Sidecars and some Bang Bang Shrimp, a rockin' Crabcake app, and you've got the makings of a great evening. But I digress. This is all about the Bang Bang.
Lovers of the original can rejoice in the fact that you can get them for $5 (discounted from the usual $9) on Wednesdays.
As we made our way around town we felt compelled to compare the Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill to the rest of the Bangin' crew. So we set out to perform a VERY unofficial taste test.
First up - Firecracker Shrimp - from Pusser's Bar and Grille in Ponte Vedra.
These are pretty awesome as well. Generous portion, the shrimp are a nice size, cooked and spiced just right. $8.50 - but you can get them half price during happy hour Mon-Fri 3-7pm, so if you can't wait for Bangin' Wednesday at BFG, c'mon down to my end of the beach and enjoy some of these babies for $4.25 ...
WAIT - it gets better! MONDAY is $4 Firecracker Day - so save that quarter for the soda machine at work. Wash 'em down with a Red Stripe - $2.50 all day, every day!
We have recently changed our opinion of Pusser's, thanks to a personal invitation from their new marketing manager (accompanied by a $50 gift certificate to defray the cost of our tastings there).
While we spent more than that on drinks alone during our explorations, we were for the most part pleased with what we found. A new menu was released last week, and we'll be posting on that shortly as well. But for the purposes of this post - we can say without prejudice that their Firecracker Shrimp was a pretty good representative of the category.
Then there's the craftily named Bing Bang Shrimp at Crazy Fish in Jax Beach. Yeah, they are not fooling anyone with THAT name.
Described on their menu as "jumbo crispy fried shrimp covered in our sweet island tropical sauce" - these were more sweet than spicy, more crunchy than anything.
The shrimp themselves were nicely done, but because they are larger, the portion seems smaller. Not as easily shared as most of the others.
They dress out the plate with some chunks of melon (to tame the heat which never quite came on) and a huge hush puppy (aka waste of space onion studded ball of dough). Seriously, people, what on earth is the deal with Hush Puppies? Leave these for the howling dogs. Focus on the good stuff.
Next up is another oddly presented contender - from Jackson's in Riverside - Blazin' Shrimp ($6) are reported to be seasoned Buffalo wing-style shrimp with a dipping sauce.
Six large shrimp for - you do the math - a buck a piece. Again, the individual shrimp were delish - but you won't want to share.
Our favorite of the Bang Bang Wannabe Gang was the Sock it to me Shrimp appetizer at The Blue Fish in Avondale - $6 on the lunch menu, $11 at dinner or on the bar menu. (We went at lunch - and it was a great bargain).
The portion was generous on this day - enough to share or have as a meal. The juicy shrimp were nicely breaded and fried, served piping hot with a coating of creamy Thai spiced sauce. The assertive heat stayed around after the dish was cleared. I'm thinking these were panko crusted - but I'm going to ask the server next time because they were my favorite in the coating category.
The light, crispy texture and the generous portion size have propelled this dish to the top of our lunch craving list. Sure, you could share, but you won't want to! Drizzle some of that lemon and dig in!
One of the biggest disappointments in the search for the perfect faux Bang Bang was this gloppy mess from Mitchell's Fish Market in St Johns Town Center.
Spicy Asian Shrimp came with sweet sticky rice, pickled cucumbers for a whopping $9.95. WAY too much money for WAY too much sauce covering WAY too small, WAY over-breaded shrimp.
The flavors were good - the spicy heat was there - but the textures were just wrong. And instead of a nice medium sized shrimp, these were tiny - almost salad sized, and not butterflied. The breading expanded when they cooked, so most of what was on that plate was breading, sauce, and air. The rice was nice, but mostly it was there to elevate the shrimp so the portion would look larger. The pickled cucumbers were soggy and limp. We tried the crab cake too - do NOT even get me started. Stick with the Kung Pao Calamari if you want a great fried seafood app at Mitchell's.
Speaking of alternatives - we couldn't let the Asian Shrimp app category go by without singing the praises of this delicious offering from Fuji Japanese Restaurant on Roosevelt Ave.
Shu Mai are tender, sweet shrimp dumplings - a bargain at $4.50.
If you drizzled a little shrimp sauce on them you'd have a Bangin' good replica - but don't - they are melt-in-your-mouth perfection with the accompanying dipping sauce.
Another controversial entry in the Bangin' category is the Bangin' Shrimp Taco $2.95 at Jax Beach fave rave Tacolu.
EVERYBODY raves about the Bangin' Shrimp Taco - everybody except me, it seems. My verdict - too sweet. The shrimp (about 3 to a taco) tasted like they've been candied. Hot, sure, sweet, hellz yeah.
Yet somehow it doesn't work for me. Don't get me wrong - We LOVE The Lu! But the Bangin' is the one taco on their menu I don't really much care for.
I wish they had other shrimp tacos - I do LOVE a good shrimp taco, just not sugar coated. In this one case, I'd say don't take my word for it, try it out - but ask the waitress about the "secret tacos" - and try them all -
So there you have it! Our verdict - the original is still the winner -
Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill - can't say there's nothing like it, but we're sticking with the original.
Well, we sampled as many as we could find, but I'm sure we've left out some of your favorites - so if you know of another Bangin' Slammin' Rockin' Sockin' Asian Fried Shrimp Appetizer in town, please let us know!
In the interest of full diclosure - the fine folks whose work it is to promote the Bonefish Grill have asked us to compare them to another local seafood restaurant - and this time they've put their money where our mouths are - with a generous donation to the Beastie's dining fund! We'll be drawing those comparisons soon in another post.
Thanks to both Pusser's and Bonefish Grill for helping to make this the best seafood summer EVAH!