Rock shrimp once were considered trash. If a fisherman went trawling in the deep waters of the Atlantic for easy-to-peel white shrimp but decked a thousand pounds of tough-hulled rock shrimp instead, he heaved the hard-heads back into the drink and cursed his bad luck. Today, sitting at the tables of the Dixie Crossroads restaurant, seafood lovers are delighted when waitresses bring forth rock shrimp by the dozens – split apart for easy pickin' and broiled to pearly pinkness. The formerly worthless crustaceans have become a delicacy.
The place that transformed the rock shrimp from junk to jewel is Dixie Crossroads, whose founder, Rodney Thompson, devised a method to transform the hard-shelled critter into easy eating. His daughter, Laurilee, suggested he split the shrimp, butter them, then put them under a broiler. The results were delicious enough to inspire Thompson to create a machine that split and cleaned them in a trice, making them easier to eat than just about any other shellfish.
Available by the dozen ($13.99) or on an all-you-can-eat plan ($39.99), rock shrimp arrive marshaled in rows, splayed open and waiting to be plucked from their shells. Size varies with the season, which starts in July and runs through March. At their smallest, each one is scarcely over an inch long – a delicate, bite-sized morsel. At the peak of the season, late winter, they are as plump and luscious as lobster. Drawn butter is provided for dunking, but here is an instance where it seems like gilt for the lily, for there is hardly any seafood more inherently buttery than these glistening creatures.
Remember how good these shrimp are when you are presented with a basket of sugar-dusted corn fritters at the beginning of the meal. It's all too easy to overindulge, and if you eat them all the waitress will bring more. Beware: they will steal your appetite. By the way, the menu is replete with other seafood, including wild ocean shrimp in various sizes, fried coconut or bacon shrimp, scallops, catfish, salmon, and mullet.
Dixie Crossroads is extremely popular. Expect to wait for a table at mealtime.