Red Lobster on a Wednesday evening is much more packed than one might assume, though I’m not sure what day of the week I’d envision anyone dining there. I was there though, and I was waiting at the bar longer than I’ve waited for any table in my life.
A low bar, for sure — I don’t tend to frequent the type of restaurants where tables are in short supply, as those tend to be out of my price range as a college student. A high school volleyball tournament was playing on the TV and the regulars were sipping on oversized Margaritas and tropical drinks in highball glasses.
All in all, I was enjoying my 21st birthday.
Chick-fil-A offering free breakfast all week at two Madison locationsCalling all breakfast enthusiasts, free food fanatics and Chick-fil-A lovers! The West Towne Mall and East Madison Chick-fil-A locations are Read…
Why did I want to drive several miles away from campus to celebrate my 21st birthday at Red Lobster? That was a question several people asked me, and one I was now asking myself. They don’t give you anything particularly special for your birthday — a lackluster dollop of vanilla ice cream smeared with chocolate sauce and pierced with a single lit candle was all I got.
There are several better restaurants closer to campus, and even one that has notably marketed itself as “the birthday place” (keen readers may be able to guess which one).
But for some indescribable reason I’ve always been fascinated with Red Lobster. The kitschy New England harbor town décor, the bastardization and mass marketization of traditional seafood dishes, and the notorious Cheddar Bay biscuit have always kept Red Lobster near and dear to my heart.
Growing up in landlocked Wisconsin with no real alternatives except for the occasional fish fry meant eating at Red Lobster was most of my early experience with seafood.
But I wasn’t just going for the fun of it — in fact, I was on a mission. As a subscriber to the Red Lobster newsletter, I receive periodic updates about promotions and specials sent directly to my email inbox.
In advance of my birthday, when I was thinking about what I ought to do to celebrate, I received an email informing me the endless shrimp promotion was beginning for the season. It was in that moment I decided I would attempt to conquer this promotion by eating 100 shrimp.
One hundred shrimp doesn’t really sound like a lot at first glance — shrimp are small, and I felt like I would be able to get at least 75 down before I knew it.
When my table buzzer went off, I was braced to do battle with the hordes of crustaceans, having prepared myself with a light fast day-of. My waitress seated me and, upon finding out I was celebrating the big two-one, cajoled me into ordering a Sailor’s Paradise — a cocktail served in a decorative lighthouse glass with rum, bitters, ginger beer and pineapple juice.
The Sailor’s Paradise went down easy — sweet, sour and the taste of rum totally concealed. Perhaps that drink loosened my resolve to the point where I broke my fast by eating a Cheddar Bay biscuit as my rationality screamed to save my appetite for the heaps of shrimp.
On the other hand, I’m fairly certain it’s illegal to dine at Red Lobster and not eat at least one flaky, savory, buttery Cheddar Bay biscuit.
My first two dishes of shrimp went down without a fight. I inhaled 15 hand-breaded and 10 Teriyaki-grilled before my waitress could scarcely turn her back. Time was of the essence as I needed to cram as many shrimp down my gullet before my stomach could send the appropriate signals to my brain to stop all eating.
My waitress, no novice to endless shrimp, was back shortly to prime my next two orders. For my third and fourth dishes, I opted for the Nashville hot and the crispy Sriracha-honey shrimp. The Nashville hot shrimp was not nearly spicy enough to do its hometown justice, and the crispy Sriracha tasted suspiciously similar, though with a heavier sweetness. Nonetheless, I soldiered on.
It was the garlic shrimp scampi that caused me to hit the wall. It may have been the richness of the butter they were basted in, but I went from a consistent rhythm of plate-mouth-repeat to being barely able to swallow additional shrimp. I tried to go the distance by ordering a final hand-breaded set, and, while I was able to finish, that last one I knew continuing was impossible. In the end, I only ate 57 shrimp.
Failure humbles a man, but in that humbling there is also the hope that someday the tides will turn and one might emerge victorious. This will not be my last attempt at conquering endless shrimp, and next time I will resist the urge to eat a biscuit.