Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Shrimpers’ Leslie Castro serves up the fried catfish sandwich and Texas ranch cheeseburger. (photo by Scott Latham)
Vera Cruz cilantro lime sopa $2.95 (cup), $5.95 (bowl)
Fried combo plate $12.95
Ancho chile glazed
fresh salmon $12.95
Grilled Idaho rainbow
trout $12.95
Bahamian crab cakes $12.95
Sea You in Tampico

New ownership adds some traditional touches to Shrimpers fish dishes.


Shrimpers Seafood Grille

215 University Dr, FW. 817-877-3255. Mon-Thu 11:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm. All major credit cards accepted.

Some years ago, I found myself driving through Mexico for a few weeks, mostly in the Gulf Coast region. Cities like Tampico, Vera Cruz, and Xalapa were fascinating, very different from Cancun and the border cities I had visited before. This was a blue-collar area, with refineries and lime groves and fishermen who left the docks early each morning.

And because of these fishermen, the seafood in the region was wonderful. Whether at a fancy restaurant or shack on the beach, you could get fish dishes with fantastic sauces. Huachinango Veracruzano was a red snapper covered with tomatoes, capers, and a lime-based sauce. There was a fish stew that was like cioppino and was known locally as a hangover cure. Seafood was cooked whole or in banana leaves, and the seasoning was never too spicy, always with the juice of the limes that grew on the hillsides nearby.

After that trip, I had always wondered why Texas had never really embraced Mexican seafood cuisine. Part of the reason is that Mexican food here has usually been of the Tex-Mex variety, and our fellow citizens have never been the kind that would prefer red snapper over tacos and fajitas. Plus we don’t live by the ocean.

Shrimpers Seafood Grille has for a long time been a local favorite. About six months ago, new owners took over the restaurant on University Drive and changed the menu to add Mexican influences to the seafood dishes. Shrimpers still delivers the traditional American seafood plates, but the menu now also includes some of the food that would be served in places like Vera Cruz and Tampico.

The new owners also cleaned up the inside a bit, opening up the kitchen and adding a little kitsch on the walls. The back patio is still one of the best outdoor dining areas in Fort Worth, with a vine-covered canopy, tiki torches, and manmade pools whose tumbling water provides a soothing background sound.

The lunch menu — which is available all day — is pretty basic: fried seafood baskets and burgers. The difference, with special regard to the baskets at least, is that Shrimpers allows diners to create their own. We tried one with shrimp, oysters, and catfish fillet — wise choices, as it turned out. The oysters tasted fresh and were perfectly cooked — crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. And while the shrimp were slightly overcooked and a bit chewy, the catfish was flaky and almost complete bereft of that musky flavor that catfish is known for. Our baskets came with hush puppies, cole slaw, and plump, smoky red beans.

The dinner offerings, unlike the lunch items, draw almost completely from Mexican tradition. Of the appetizers, the Cozumelian ceviche was the right mix of lime-marinated seafood and shrimp, served over lettuce and avocados. The fish (which isn’t actually raw but “cooked” by the acidity of the lime rather than by heat) had a good saltiness, and it was nice to get ceviche in a portion bigger than the usual measly shrimp-cocktail size. And the Vera Cruz sopa was a rich, hearty soup with chicken and corn that exploded with the flavors of lime and cilantro.

In the middle, between traditional and American styles, are Shrimpers house specialties. The ancho chile-glazed fresh salmon — served with a salsa made from orange juice, cilantro, and red onions — had just enough bite and sweetness to make for a highly unusual yet tasty dish. And the grilled rainbow Idaho trout — which arrived lathered in a relatively flat cream sauce of cilantro, lime, capers, and garlic — was fresh and lighter than air.

Each dinner came with the choice of either steamed red potatoes or french fries, along with a large house salad made succulent by a zesty mix of green olives, red onion, and tomatoes, plus a citrusy, honey-tasting lime dressing.

The service was well-intentioned, if a bit uneven. On one visit, the appetizers, salad, and seafood all arrived at about the same time. It was obvious that the server was trying to be as quick as possible, but speed doesn’t always equal good service. Some customers like to take their time.

Shrimpers also has a full bar, new wine list, and some discounts — all-you-can-eat catfish ($9.95) on Monday and Tuesday nights, and kids 10 and under eat free on Wednesday nights. And for those who don’t want to experiment with Mexican seafood, Shrimpers also features many basic items that are more American, such as fajitas, crab cakes, and surf and turf with shrimp and ribeye steak. Tex-Mex fans will be glad to know that Shrimpers also offers chicken quesadillas.

The changes at Shrimpers are a great improvement — it’s nice to see a local restaurant bringing something a little different to town. The Mexican influences allow the seafood dishes to shine, and the emphasis on lime and cilantro doesn’t overwhelm the fish flavors. The new ownership has kept many of the old Shrimpers favorites, but don’t visit this restaurant for the old standbys. Try something new.

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