Living in Florida, one does not travel far before finding a seafood restaurant. Here in Lakeland, for instance, we've got Red Lobster (it started here), Bonefish Grill and easily a dozen independent restaurants serving the fruits of the sea. (Mr. Fish, you're on my list!). As you get closer to either shore, the number of places increases exponentially.
When we lived near Brandon, we would opt for Shells probably about as often as we went to Red Lobster. The food was good, the prices were about the same and they didn't have the insane crowds. It never disappointed, but we were sad to find that the chain was shuttering several locations, including Brandon. As that was a couple of years ago, before the economy really tanked, I thought that it was gone, especially since the last newspaper article about the chain wasn't very optimistic.
Tonight, however, we were over in Tampa around dinner time and spied a Shells location on Dale Mabry. (At that point, I think the family would have eaten just about anywhere, they were really hungry). It was a welcome sight for both Ed and I, as we knew we'd have a hard time picking an entree, a sign of the quality of meals past.
Our server was a little busy when we were seated, but she greeted us warmly and apologized for the delay. It was probably a good thing, for it gave us time to choose an appetizer. The rest of the service was very, very quick (Tuesdays are Maine Lobster nights for 18.95, so it makes sense that the place was a little busy!). Clam strips were ordered and arrived in no time at all.
These are probably some of the best you can get: lightly breaded and clearly not from a bag. They were very tender and very lightly seasoned, so that the clam flavor rose above the breading. On the side was a house prepared cocktail sauce that leaned slightly to the horseradish side,w which we loved. What was impressive is that GameTeen generally avoids sauces and he partook of that cocktail sauce, so kudos to Shells for making that happen.
Ed ordered the Shrimp Mezzo Mezzo, and was very happy with the penne and tomato cream sauce with his shrimp. It looked fantastic, but I'll have to take his word for it-he didn't offer a sample. This one comes with mushrooms and plenty of shrimp
Chef couldn't decide what to order, and I mentioned that their Shrimp Pasta was his favorite back in the day. He decided to revist it and was not disappointed. I think we were all surprised that he waved the white flag before he was done with his meal. this has spaghetti in a nice wine cream sauce, and usually is two servings for me, not Chef.
Meanwhile, there were too many good choices that I went to my fallback, fried shrimp. Like the clams, these were fresh and very lightly breaded and were served with parsley potatoes and cole slaw. That coleslaw was creamy, crunchy and slightly sweet, which normally would not appeal to me (I like mustard based slaw), but I almost finished the whole container before I ate a single shrimp. A rarity for me, I did not bring home leftovers.
GameTeen usually goes to the kids menu for his choices, but he saw the fish and chips and was very eager to get it. When it came to the table, I think I would have ordered it, too. The filets were batter dipped and nice, flaky whitefish was found within. He ended up eating the first filet with a fork and is quite excited about having leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Our only complaint is that they're not local to us, but that just gives us a place to eat when we're over in Tampa and don't want to battle the crowds at the restaurants near International Plaza and Westshore.