January 30, 2011 | 12:23pm
I'm often fascinated by people who can sit down to those all-you-can-eat buffets and pile on food, plate after plate. It's not that I don't approve. Believe me, I wish I could do it too. I just tend to fill up rather quickly, thus negating the fabulous price-to-pile ratio.
But if you're one of those people who loves a good challenge of filling your belly for a fantastic fee, then you better scuttle on down to Bahama Mama's tomorrow.
You'll be able to count yourself among the first patrons to sit down and dig into a plate of fresh Florida rock shrimp, one of the most recent additions to the menu at the 3-month-old Caribbean-style restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach.
Never had rock shrimp before? Well, then, you're in for a surprise -- from the whole head-removal-and-shell-splitting ritual way to eat them to the confounding is-it-or-isn't-it-a-shrimp? query.
Even though it's some work getting through shell and exoskeleton to the sweeter-than-your-average-shrimp meat within, Charlie gives Bahama Mama's owners, John and Lisa Ciulla, four thumbs up for bringing this fresh-catch delight to their tables.
It probably helps that Bahama Mama's rock shrimp are the freshest money can buy. They're still wiggling around before they're cooked and plated, brought to the restaurant the same way much of the fish at the Ciullas' establishment is: fresh caught by John himself, an avid spearfisherman (who holds a wholesale fishing license, for those of you wondering).
These shrimp, however, are the catch of some fishermen a few hours north of Palm Beach County -- old contacts from Ciulla's younger days working the raw bar at Dirty Moe's Oyster Boat in Boca Raton. Although the seafood restaurant is no longer in business, the fisherman who supplied their rock shrimp at the time are. Ciulla did his homework, tracked them down, and now -- thanks to his due diligence -- brings them to South Florida diners in search of the delicious crustaceans.
It also means Bahama Mama's is now serving them all the time -- with Monday, January 31, marking their first "All You Can Eat Rock Shrimp" event priced at $20 per person.
So, are rock shrimp really shrimp? Yes. But they taste (and even look) more like tiny spiny lobster. And, like the deep-sea lobster, they live and spawn in 120 to 240 feet of water. With rock-hard shells (hence, the name), they don't usually grow as large as your average pink, brown, or white shrimp. On average, they're no more than two inches in length, and are typically served with the head still intact.
You'll get them that way at Bahama Mama's, shells shimmering in a bread-dipping-good butter and garlic broth, $9 to $16 for a half/whole pound.
Armed with nothing more than a knife and napkin, the only way to get to the succulent meat is to tear off the head, remove the legs, split the outer shell, and cut through the exoskeleton. Sound like some work? You won't mind when you're rewarded with their deliciously sweet flavor.
No excuses now! Make it to Bahama Mama's for the all-you-can-eat fest. Just remember a bib or change of shirt -- and a hearty appetite.
After all, we're assuming you wouldn't follow Clean Plate Charlie if you couldn't do some plate-cleaning yourself. Now go out there and make us proud!
340 Clematis St.
West Palm Beach 33401
Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.