Jose Mata, an owner of El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant, asked if I'd ever eaten a Mexican shrimp cocktail.
When I think of "shrimp cocktail," I picture six shrimp clinging to a glass or metal bowl with ice, shaved lettuce and a bowl of red sauce made of ketchup and horseradish.
Well, that's not what you get in a Mexican shrimp cocktail, or as it's listed on the menu, a Coctél de Camarón.
"No, none of that," Mata said. "It's not like the one you get at Red Lobster."
The server brought my Mexican shrimp cocktail. It comes in a large goblet with 12 to 16 (it seemed like there were 20 or so in mine) boiled shrimp, guacamole, pico de gallo (chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro and peppers), ketchup, a secret sauce, lime slices, a stalk of celery and a big spoon. You stir up the contents and eat it like a stew or hearty soup.
Shrimp heaven. It's one of the most hedonistically, over-the-top delicious things I've eaten in a long time. It's sweet and savory and very filling. I didn't even open a single pack of the crackers that came with my order.
"It's got a lot of vitamins," Mata said.
David Gearhardt, who passed my table, said the shrimp cocktail looked like a "Bloody Mary shrimp combo." Actually, I don't know why you couldn't add vodka. That doesn't sound so bad.
Mata, who is from Jalisco, Mexico, said this type of shrimp cocktail is served more at coastal hotels in Acapulco, Vera Cruz or Guadalajara than at Mexican homes. Mexican restaurants might add other ingredients, including octopus and oysters, he said.
I've had something similar at parties, but those shrimp cocktails usually were served in little plastic martini glasses. Other Mexican restaurants in town serve shrimp cocktails, but each one has its own version, Mata said.
The Mexican shrimp cocktail is more popular among Hispanic customers, Mata said. It's a big seller on the weekends. I was the only one in the packed restaurant who had ordered one at dinnertime.
So what's the best thing to drink with a Mexican shrimp cocktail? Without hesitating, Mata said, "A Corona. A margarita. One of those two."
El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant has several Memphis locations, including 402 N. Perkins Road, Memphis; (901) 761-7710.
>-- Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; firstname.lastname@example.org