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the occasions lady and st. augustine's famous shrimp
by Audrey Poff

Just beyond The Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, Fla., sits a small diner that generally blends into its surroundings on Anastasia Boulevard – unless, of course, it’s anywhere close to dinnertime. Drive by the restaurant after 5 p.m. and it’s not bright lights or neon signs that capture your attention – it’s the
crowd waiting in the Florida heat for their turn to dine at O’Steen’s Restaurant, a local landmark that serves, in my opinion, the best fried shrimp on the planet.

My parents began taking our family to St. Augustine when was probably 4 or 5 years old. Although I enjoy traveling to new places, I also love the tradition our family has of visiting this historic city on Florida’s first coast each year. The owner of a local hotel suggested O’Steen’s to my parents back in the ‘70s, and we have been returning there for fried shrimp during vacations to St. Augustine ever since.

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental U.S. It served as the capital of Spanish Florida for 200 years and remained the capital of East Florida as the territory changed hands between the Spanish and the British. Because of its
many influences by other cultures throughout the city’s history, the food is diverse and good restaurants are plentiful. Still, O’Steen’s remains at the top of our list.

The fried shrimp at O’Steen’s are quite large and are butterflied before being fried in a light batter, making each single shrimp seem comparable to the size of two. They are served with a creamy sauce that has a hint of datil pepper, which is indigenous to the St. Augustine area. For those who like a little more heat, datil pepper hot sauce sits on every table.

Orders of O’Steen’s “Famous St. Augustine Fried Shrimp” come in a nine- or 12-piece orders, or those with a “hearty appetite” can order a dozen and a half or two dozen shrimp. An order of a dozen shrimp with sides is modestly priced at $12.95. Bump your order up to two dozen and the price is $19.75; not a bad price for plate of shrimp piled so high that you can’t see the sides.

A few years ago, when my son, Adam, and nephew, Austin, were teenagers, they decided to see who could eat the most shrimp. They each ordered two dozen, but the competition also required that all sides had to be eaten. They were both successful – somewhat miserable, perhaps, but successful. As the shrimp-eating competition continued, unfortunately, our bill increased each time. Last year, the contest grew when our son, Eric, 19, challenged our daughter, Emma, 17, to see if she could eat two dozen shrimp. With the thought of our bill increasing exponentially, we decided it would be best if the loser of the wager had to pay for the challenger’s meal – our not-so-subtle way of discouraging our team of competitive eaters. What made the contest more interesting was knowing that Emma, being the queen of shopping, no longer
had the money to pay for her meal if she could not live up to the challenge.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so as a typical teenager, she simply turned to Google for tips on eating for competition. By the time the last few shrimp remained on her plate, she was a nice shade of pale. Knowing that I knew she could not afford to lose the bet, she arose to the challenge, literally. She stood at the table and with family, friends and spectators watching, she began shaking her hips and torso slightly – one of the tips she was given for helping to get the food down.

Emma won the challenge, Eric gladly paid for her meal and misery, and entertainment was provided for all. Best of all, Rodney and I didn’t have to pay for all of those extra shrimp! Worst of all, it seems that after all of these years, I have developed a food intolerance to – of all things – shrimp! Ugh. I’ll guess I’ll have the chicken, please.