Gulf seafood in the Bluegrass

One of my recent loves in life has been Royal Red shrimp, a Gulf delicacy that rarely finds its way out of the region in which it is caught. They’re scarcer than the brown shrimp and even the Gulf pink shrimp, in part because they live deep in Gulf waters.

So, in short, I thought I was doomed to have access to them only when I went on vacation.

But recently, a friend tipped me off to a Kentucky-based company called Gulf Coast Connection, an organization of fishermen who travel to the Gulf regularly, fish for wild seafood off their boat(s), and then bring it home to the Bluegrass to share with seafood addicts like me.

With storefronts in Elizabethtown and Paducah, they are not a terribly long drive away from almost anywhere in the state to pick up what you need, but there’s more to the story; Gulf Coast Connection also delivers, sort of. What I mean by that is the business model doesn’t stop at selling seafood by the pound over a counter at their stores — the guys behind it also travel around the state doing pop-up seafood markets.

I follow the organization on Facebook, where the name is ABSeafood (like A, B, C… get it?), and announcements are made almost daily on the stops around the state, and it recently added Louisville to the route. The truck full of shrimp, oysters and more stopped in Louisville in the Hillview area as recently as April 8. The way it works is this: When an announcement is made on Facebook about the next stop, you simply respond to the post with your order and they’ll make sure to have it ready to go when they arrive.

The first time I grabbed some Royal Reds (I believe they were a very reasonable $14 per pound), I parked in a specific parking lot as designated in the Facebook post, and just waited. Slowly, but surely, cars began pulling in and parking, with people waiting inside. Finally, a big box truck arrived, parked, and two guys got out.

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When they did, people started getting out of their cars, and soon there was a line. The Gulf Coast Connection guys even set up a sign with what they had that day handwritten on it. But all the pre-ordered seafood was already bagged up and ready to go inside the freezer truck. You hand over your cash, and they find your bags of whatever it is you ordered.

What I found funny was that, while it all seemed like some sort of black market deal going down, the guys who show up to sell are friendly and helpful. They’re just fishermen selling their catch and trying to make a living. It was like buying shrimp at a yard sale or something.

The last time I picked up some Royal Reds, the crowd had come and gone, and my order was the only one that hadn’t been picked up yet. But there was the freezer truck, with the Gulf Coast Connection guys patiently waiting. You don’t get that kind of service everywhere, folks.

The best part is that the shrimp I’ve purchased from them have been just as delicious as the Royal Reds I order in Gulf Shores restaurants. Granted, I undercooked the first batch I made (thawed Royal Reds literally only need two or three minutes of boiling to be ready to eat), but since then, I’ve nailed it, and it’s easy to add a little garlic to butter for melting.

Big, meaty, uniquely flavored (they’re vaguely sweet) — and available in Kentucky. You can also get Gulf pink shrimp, salmon, grouper, sea trout, smoked tuna, crawfish (boiled or live!), scallops, snow crab and even gator. And if you forget to place your order in time, you may still not be out of luck, as they usually bring extra.

If you want seafood for your Derby party, there’s a pre-order sale on now (for pickup only) — order by April 29 on the Facebook post announcing the sale, and you’ll get 20 percent off on orders of 10 pounds or more, or on live or boiled by the sack. The E-town store location is 321 E. Mulberry St.

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