I have a certain predilection in gravitating towards “beach” type restaurants. Born from memories of childhood vacations to the Outer Banks, NC, the appeal of a Jimmy Buffet song, a sunset, and a fresh helping of the day’s catch just awakens some spirit of “damn, this is the life” within me. That said, it’s been years since I’ve actually partaken in one of those vacations, and while I’ve eaten Bison Burgers in Western National Parks and authentic barbeque in southern hotspots, I’ve gone perilously long in search of the right atmosphere to take a load off and watch the waves come in.
Shaggy’s in Biloxi, Mississippi seemed like the kind of place to recall those memories. When I arrived on a Friday evening the place was hoping. Open aired and decorated in the usual assortment of ocean-themed decor, the restaurant overlooks the serene waters of the Gulf of Mexico and basks under the near 80-degree evenings of April in the deep south. Pounds and pounds of boiled crawfish – smelling heavy of Cajun spices and served in pots big enough to provide a family with dinner (plus leftovers), Shaggy’s instantly seized upon a chord of my imagination. A walk off the back porch and onto the beach certainly helped, so much so that I proudly announced to others in my party that, “you know, I don’t drink, but a place like this would be exactly the kind of place where I’d want to get wasted.”
But when it comes to the food, Shaggy’s just doesn’t deliver for the price.
Having looked over the menu and set my sights on the Ahi Tuna, I was disappointed to learn that neither the entree nor the appetizer was being offered that day. I instead went with the Shrimp Kabob’s (the daily special as an appetizer) with a side of the Seaweed Salad, although changed my mind at the last minute and went with the Catch of the Day with vegetables. Swordfish is, when cooked right, absolutely succulent and every bit as meaty as Ahi Tuna, while the prospect of grilled vegetables at an open aired hotspot just seemed “right.” Both were, unfortunately, wrong.
As was the kitchen’s understanding of my order. No sooner had the Seaweed Salad come out than I told the waitress, “remember, I changed my mind.” She seemed perplexed and confused, but allowed us to keep it even after I asked to have it sent back. “Just try it,” she said.
To their credit, Shaggy’s does the Asian specialty better than most I’ve had. The seaweed itself it slightly crunchy and al dente, with just the right balance of nutty sesame oil and seeds, as well as sweet rice wine vinegar. Use of the Wasabi Mayo and Siracha is restrained – like it should be – and used more as a garnish, and the portion was sufficient for the $5 dollar price tag.
The catch of the day was a big disappointment, however. At $19 I felt a little guilty getting it (someone else was paying as a gift) and the portion size didn’t alleviate my fears. With perhaps 6-8 ounces of swordfish, it nevertheless appeared with an assortment of oil drenched vegetables and two toasted slice of baguette. A dusting of Old Bay on the edge of the plate may have looked good, but it didn’t add much. Likewise, the parsley seemed more a garnish than anything else. Flair, but little substance.
The fish itself was fine. Not memorable, but not bad, either. Meaty and blackened, my only complaint was that it had obviously been basted with too much oil, and was otherwise a little bland. This is Cajun country, after all, and I was expecting some kick. A side of sweet chili sauce seemed like the kind of thing I could get at Panda Express.
The vegetables were, in a word, an awful afterthought. I love the taste and texture of slightly crunchy, charred grilled peppers and squash, but these oil-limp vegetables were chewy and tasteless. Hardly the kind of side you want to feature with your most expensive entrée. Fortunately, a friend let me snag a few fried shrimp and a hushpuppy, which although having cooled a bit, were both crunchy, spicy, and full of cornmeal-batter flavor. Clearly, I should have gone for the Fried Shrimp Po Boy.
I wanted to like Shaggy’s, but at the end of the day I just couldn’t. With the atmosphere, the view, and the ambience it seems to have everything in order except for the one thing any successful restaurant must have; the food.