On New Year’s Eve, Matt and I had to prepare for my family’s annual NYE seafood feast. We drove out to the village of Mayport to check out a fresh seafood market called Safe Harbor Seafood where we planned on buying a few pounds of crab and another pound or two of local shrimp (the Mayport/Fernandina Beach area of Florida is where one will find the best shrimp in North Florida). There was mention of a restaurant inside the market and since we would be arriving around lunchtime, it seemed just as good a place as any to grab a quick bite to eat and carry on with our seafood shopping errands for the day.
As soon as Matt and I saw the restaurant menu, we were impressed and immediately began strategizing over who would order what dish, what dishes we could split between the two of us, and whether it was such a good idea to eat a seafood lunch mere hours before we were to sit down with my family and gorge on pounds of this stuff all over again. Each time we changed our orders and began salivating over a new item it became clear to us both that we would be stupid to not do it. I mean, our only major problem was that we’d have to eat two full meals containing fresh shrimp and crab in the same day?
Do you really feel sorry for me? I didn’t think so.
Matt ordered a shrimp taco, a fish taco, and two shrimp tempuras. I chose a shrimp taco and a spinach cake. Then we went outside on the deck to enjoy the view of the St. Johns River and all the shrimping and fishing boats docked outside. These are the shrimpers and fishermen whose hauls from that morning were feeding us that afternoon. This is what it’s like to eat fresh, fresh, fresh seafood.
As you can see from the photographs below, we didn’t dine alone. The pelicans behaved like a very polite bunch of domesticated neighborhood ducks, mostly civil and slow to anger but eager to be fed the scraps from the fish cleaning station. I couldn’t have been more than a few feet from some of them and only once did one ruffle its feathers at me and announce that it wasn’t comfortable with me getting any closer. Since I’ve had a few run-ins with nasty pelicans in the past, I have nothing but respect for this particular gang of plunge divers. Compared to the angry, bitey pelicans in Cedar Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Mayport pelicans were an absolute pleasure to be around.
We finished our lunch and Matt, who has traveled up and down both the east and west coasts, declared, “Now THAT is the best fish taco I’ve ever eaten!”. He and I walked back inside to check out the market’s selection of fresh seafood. The prices were quite reasonable and the place was packed, which is always a good sign. I’ve only eaten snow crab and king crab so I was a little hesitant to approve buying a few pounds of stone crab, but if we wanted to eat that night, we had no choice. An additional two pounds of shrimp later, with heads-off, of course, because I don’t know how to prepare shrimp – I just eat it – we strolled out of the market with the most important ingredients for our New Year’s Eve feast safely contained inside an ice-packed travel cooler.
New Year’s Eve is pretty much the only time of the year we all sit down at the table together and get our hands dirty – peeling the shells from local Mayport shrimp seasoned with Old Bay and cracking open the meat-filled legs of a succulent crab. The crab is usually the star of the meal, giving bragging rights to whoever pulls the largest chunk of meat from a claw. There is usually a mess when all is said and done – pieces of shrimps legs falling halfway from a plate, spilled dipping cups once filled with melted butter, cocktail sauce on someone’s brand new shirt. We don’t even use napkins during this meal as only a thick, dampened washcloth will suffice.
NOTE: This year, more wine than usual was consumed – by the cook and by the recipients of the meal – giving the chef (aka my Mom) a slight delay in reacting to an unfortunate stovetop pot of burning crab. The smoke in the house was so thick that Matt, Elle, and I decided to finish our wine outside on the back porch (like we really needed more wine, and no – Elle did not have wine). The stench from our house even kept Crazy Rex indoors. All in all – BEST NEW YEAR’S EVE EVER. And my favorite part? I got to kiss Matt at midnight. Happy 2012, peeps.