A restaurant’s appetizer can influence my decision to make a return visit. Even something as simple as the dry-roasted peanuts I wolf down while waiting for my Five Guys burger is something I consider before deciding which burger joint to visit.
I wouldn’t think of going to Blackwater Grill on St. Simons Island without ordering its boudin fritters, or to Smok’n Pig BBQ near Valdosta without having its jumbo hot wings. They smoke those rascals over pecan-wood coals before deep-frying and bathing them in buttery buffalo sauce. Umph!
Regardless of what I order from their menus, I have to get these particular appetizers at these particular restaurants. Otherwise, my whole dining experience would be lessened.
Free appetizers that come to mind are the sweet pickles I get at Carter’s Catfish House in Adel after I order the catfish platter. An appetizer I don’t mind paying for when I visit Longhorn Steakhouse is the Wild West shrimp. They’re sprinkled with “prairie dust” and served with diced cherry peppers.
Who’d ever think a steakhouse chain could do such a good job with seafood? Steaks are a food that conjures up images of the Old West, where beef and supper were synonyms. Boats hauling fresh shrimp are scarce between Oklahoma and Arizona and most of Texas, too. It’s little wonder, then, that a restaurant chain featuring western flavors would add a little western spice to its seafood.
However, several restaurants I’ve mentioned in my column claim to offer the best in surf and turf. You’ll notice I rarely say they do a great job at both.
Those that do a great job with seafood typically don’t do so well with steaks, which for the most part tend to be overcooked and as tasty as an old Army boot. One steakhouse I frequent does a great steak, or I wouldn’t go there. But I won’t get its tasteless lobster tail again.
On the other hand, I have to say that Skipper’s Fish Camp in Darien does an excellent job at both seafood and barbecue. One of its appetizers proves it. It’s called Collards & Q and consists of delicious collard greens piled on top of succulent, smoky pulled pork. My wife and I gobble it all down long before our grilled mahi and Georgia white shrimp arrive with cheese grits and slaw.
Skipper’s buffalo gator tail also is an excellent appetizer, and its Brunswick stew has won the people’s choice category at the Brunswick Stewbilee. In fact, I think I could make a meal out of Skipper’s appetizers.
I’ve often thought about doing the same thing at the Pirate’s House in Savannah. Its fried green-tomato stack is one of few all-veggie dishes I’d be willing to call a meal. But then, I’d probably order at least a cup of the she-crab soup there to wash it down.
Some restaurants don’t offer appetizers at all, and that’s too bad. We hungry customers need something to hold us over till our food arrives. How’s a fellah supposed to sit there and smell all those tempting aromas surrounding his table or watch another customer enjoy a plate covered with chicken-fried steak?
A good appetizer compliments the meal you’ve ordered. That’s why hot wings go well with barbecue.
My favorite appetizers for Italian cuisine are bruschetta or garlic bread sticks dipped in marinara sauce. Macaroni Grill in Savannah does a great bruschetta, but Sal’s Pizzeria on St. Simons Island has a marinara sauce you can dip a flattened roadkill toad into, and it’ll still taste great.
It says a lot about how much my family appreciates appetizers to note that our youngest daughter has learned how to make an excellent bruschetta, and my wife can make some mean hot wings — after I smoke them a little first.