Flavors of Louisiana with just a hint of Asia at The Boiling Shrimp, open since April 25, bring freshly prepared seafood back to the one-time Captain Joe's building on U.S. 301 South.
Mostly, though, the restaurant offers its own palette of flavor options as it lets patrons choose among seasoning blends and intensity levels.
Restaurateurs Charles and Jean Hsu have owned the building since buying it from the former Captain Joe's owners not quite a decade ago. The Hsus leased it to other restaurant operators for incarnations such as Shogun and Crabby Joe's, but recently decided that they would try putting it to use for themselves, creating a restaurant with a different approach to seafood.
"We took a couple of trips to Singapore, and they have some kinds of spicy things, and all those things mixed with the seafood, and then after they're boiled or steamed, and we thought about creating those kinds of very tasty seafood for our local people," said Charles Hsu.
Hsu provided an adequate introduction to the variety of seafood and flavors available and emphasizing that, despite the abundance of grilled and fried options, the place is called The Boiling Shrimp for a reason.
When a steaming bag of boiled shrimp seasoned with "the Whole 9 Yards" and accompanied by a few potatoes, sausages and chopped earns of corn arrived at the table, the point was illustrated. Boiled shrimp may not be The Boiling Shrimp's signature dish, exactly, but boiling seafood fresh to order with the customer's choice of spices is this restaurant's signature technique.
The menu shows nine different seafood choices that can be prepared this way. Apparently "The Boiling Shrimp, Blue Crab, Dungeness Crab, King Crab, Snow Crab, Lobster, Crawfish, Clams, Mussels, Plus Fried and Grilled Fish and Seafood," wouldn't fit on the sign.
Corn, potatoes, sausages and steamed rice can be added to the boil for additional prices.
Flavor choices are Cajun, lemon pepper, spicy chili, or combine them all and that's "the Whole 9 Yards." All are available in mild, medium or spicy. When the seafood and sides have been boiled, they are placed in a clear, plastic bag and tied up for the trip from kitchen to table. This traps the steam - and the aroma - for release when the bag is opened.
"For those two or three minutes we allow the seasonings to go inside the shrimp on its way to your table," Hsu said.
For those wanting something else, the menu includes fried fish, shrimp, chicken tenders, "Cajun" fries, and, as appetizers, calamari, oysters and hush puppies. It also lists clam chowder, gumbo, salads and po' boy sandwiches.
Despite Hsu's casual comment about trips to Singapore - and acknowledgement that he went to cooking school for more than a year in his native Taiwan - the emphasis at The Boiling Shrimp is on "Louisiana style."
As Low Country boil with a twist, the restaurant's mainstay could be as much coastal Georgia's and South Carolina's cuisine as Louisiana's. But he mentions that boiled seafood places are popular on the West Coast, too.
So maybe it is the juxtaposition of all those flavors in the Whole 9 Yards that creates an Asian undertone. Or maybe it was the presence of swai fish on the menu along with the salmon, catfish, tilapia and shrimp as the grilled options that gave the impression.
But mostly, it was learning that the Hsus are Taiwanese Americans who once owned a Chinese restaurant and now have a sort of Cajun place. It was knowing that, and enjoying sriracha, a sauce that originated in Thailand but is now as American as hot wings, on that Whole 9 Yards shrimp. Other available sauces are hot chili and Cajun.
Charles had just been discharged from the Taiwanese Army when he first worked in a restaurant in Taiwan beginning in 1982. He and Jean both immigrated to the United States about 30 years ago.
He mentions working in restaurants in Macon and Fort Valley. But they have lived in Statesboro most of those 30 years. They now have extensive real estate holdings, as Realtor Sam DiPolito, who represents them with much of their property, stated in Charles Hsu's presence.
"This couple is living the American dream," DiPolito said over lunch.
They have owned other restaurants in Statesboro, but nothing like The Boiling Shrimp before.
"This is all American food," Hsu said during a follow-up visit.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.