At Sharky's Gulf Grill, it's time to pass around plates of seafood and summer fun.
photographs by Justin Fox Burks
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On a warm and breezy evening in June, I longed for the Alabama coast, so I threw on a summer shift and sandals, corralled my husband, and headed for Sharky’s Gulf Grill, where Executive Chef John Bragg took over the kitchen in February.
It was Saturday, when a standing promotion offered oysters on the half shell for 50 cents apiece. We promptly ordered 12, along with six more charbroiled with a Cajun twist. For cocktails, we stuck with our beach theme: skinny margaritas the color of amber sunsets dressed with salt and lime.
When the oysters arrived, fresh and briny, we worked quickly in tandem. I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the oyster tray, while Tony mixed a spoonful of horseradish into the ruby-red cocktail sauce. We smiled conspiratorially, polished off the dozen, and then shifted the warm chargrilled oysters to the center of the table. By now we were ready to talk, likening the oysters’ smoky fragrance to a lazy Memphis barbecue and checking each empty shell for bonus sips of Creole butter.
Our impromptu Sharky’s vacation was off to an excellent start.
Located on Poplar Avenue in East Memphis, Sharky’s Gulf Grill has promised “the freshest seafood in Memphis” since it opened in 2009. But despite catch from day-boat suppliers and a procession of head chefs, the restaurant’s classic coastal cuisine had stayed land-locked and oftentimes disappointing.
Bragg, whose impressive résumé includes a best chef win from readers of this magazine, is ready to fix the flaws. In fact, he already has by updating the entire menu with full flavors, pretty plating, and favorite dishes such as crawfish beignets from his former fine dining restaurant Circa.
“The food is more straightforward at Sharky’s than at Circa, but that doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice flavor,” Bragg explains. “Flavor is flavor, and seafood speaks for itself. You don’t have to overwork it.”
Like the coastal roadhouse restaurants it emulates, Sharky’s seafood-centric menu is far-flung, offering grilled grouper, snapper, salmon, pompano, and mahi mahi, along with fried shrimp, sautéed scallops, and two kinds of crab legs: Alaskan king and Opilio, a type of snow crab. Curious about the difference between the two, we ordered a split portion, pried open the shells, and dipped succulent chunks of crab into melted butter. My husband preferred the sweet and juicy king crab legs, but I favored Opilio’s firm texture and salty taste.