The Following Review was in the April 1, 2000 issue of the Southern Indiana Spotlight. The article is copyrighted by the Southern Indiana Spotlight and Todd Baker. It is reprinted here with their consent. More information about the Southern Indiana Spotlight contact Todd Baker
If you love seafood, you’re going to love this month’s restaurant review. I traveled to the Key West Shrimp House in Madison for a wonderful dining experience.
The Key West Shrimp House is located in an old button factory. The building was constructed around the turn of the century. The lower level of the building still shows the original foundation that was made of flat river stones which were then mortared together with cement and a clay mixture. This is the same type construction used by the Romans in building many of their walls which still stand today.
The upper part of the building is constructed of large wood beams. These are all original and exposed inside the restaurant. In one corner, there’s a beautiful fireplace with a large painting of a steamboat that would have navigated the mighty Ohio just outside the restaurant. Inside the restaurant, it is designed to give you the impression you are eating outside at street side cafe. There are storefront replicas along one side of the dining room. In the early 1900’s, mussels were used to make buttons. Tons of mussels were taken from the Ohio River and brought by barge and rail to the button factory. Nearby lots were piled high with mussels to keep the factory in production during the winter months. Once the mussels were on-site, they would be separated into two halves and cleaned. After this, they would be taken into the factory where a machine would cut the round buttons out of the shell. These were called ‘blanks” because at this point they were nothing but a small piece of round mussel shell. After this, the blanks would be drilled with holes, countersunk, beveled, and polished.
Once the buttons were done, they would be sent to local womens’ houses where they would sew them onto cards. The cards would then be packed and sent to stores. Young boys made money by delivering the buttons back and forth between the factory and the womens’homes.
Scott Koerner, the Manager, said that you can still find the mussel shells with the holes drilled in them laying around the area.
In 1960, the building became a restaurant, and in 1968, it became the Key West Shrimp House.
The Key West Shrimp House has been a family business for quite some time. The restaurant is owned by Scott’s parents who started working at the first Key West Shrimp House in Indianapolis.
The first Key West Shrimp House opened in Indianapolis in the 50’s. His parents both worked there. His dad worked his way up and became the manager of the restaurant Indianapolis location from the mid 60’s through the early 70’s. In 1974, his dad was transferred from Indianapolis to Madison to manage this one.
In 1981, his dad bought the restaurant. The location in Indianapolis has since closed, but the one in Madison remains healthy and strong.
The Key West Shrimp House serves lunch and dinner.
The lunch menu starts out with the Luncheon Suggestions. Here you’ll find eight choices. Some of the choices are Shrimp- French Fried, Catfish Filet, Scallops, and Seafood Norfolk. The Seafood Norfolk is a Shrimp House original. Many of the items are some of the same that were on the first menu from the original restaurant in Indianapolis from the 50’s. The Seafood Norfolk has shredded Scallops, Shrimp, and Lobster. This is broiled in a flavored butter sauce. The salad bar and french fried potatoes or rice are served with it. The prices for the Luncheon Suggestions run from $6.95 to $9.95.
There are three sandwiches on the menu. You can get the Corned Beef, Chicken, or Filet. The prices are from $3.25 to $4.25.
The next section of the menu is the daily specials. Tuesday through Friday there’s a special menu item. On Tuesday, it’s the “Lobster”, Wednesday the Seafood Stroganoff, Thursday the Shrimp Panama, and Friday the Shrimp House Newburg. These selections are all $7.95.
The last section of the lunch menu is For A Lite Appetite. Here you’ll find eight selections including the Double-Baked Potato, Seafood Chowder, Shrimp House Bouillon, and Vegetable Casserole. The prices here are from $1.25 to $5.95.
The dinner menu is as equally enticing.
It starts out with The Captain’s Table. This is one of their most popular choices. It consists of a five course meal. The first course is a shrimp cocktail. Next is a cup of the Key West Chowder and salad bar. After that you get a steaming portion of crab legs, steamed shrimp, and scallops. After this comes a platter with french fried shrimp, frog leg, fish, scallops, and clam strips. And last, but not least is the dessert, either whiskey pudding or Key lime pie. With The Captain’s Table, you get a 1/2 carafe of Rose, Chablis, or Burgundy wine. The cost for this feast is $26.95.
The next section of the menu is the Appetizers. Here you’ll find six selections including Fried Onion Thins, Mozzarella Sticks, and Peel and Eat Shrimp (served hot or cold). The prices are from $3.25 to $7.95.
After the appetizers you come to the Combinations section. Here you can get Steak and Lobster, Steak and Crab, Lobster and Shrimp, Steak and Shrimp, Steak and Halibut, or Steak and Broiled Chicken Breast. All of these are market priced.
The inside of the menu consists of the dinner entrees. The first section here is shrimp. There are eleven different choices. Some of the choices are Coconut, Shrimp Panama, Shrimp-In-A-Net, and Shrimp Scampi. The Shrimp-In-A-Net are placed in a fish net and submerged for exactly four minutes in a boiling seasoned liquid. The shrimp are served to you in the net and then you peel them and then you dip them into the Key West sauce. Within this section, you’ll also find Lobster and Alaskan King Crab legs (these are market priced). The shrimp selection range in price from $14.95 to $15-95.
The next section you come to is the Fish. There are ten menu items. Halibut Oscar (baked), Stuffed Sole Monterey, and Deep Fried Catfish Filet are just a few. Under the Fish section are Scallops in Wine Sauce, Scallops (deep fried), and Deep Fried Frog Legs. The Halibut Oscar is a Halibut, a meaty white fish, smothered in Hollandaise sauce and garnished with asparagus. The prices are from $11.95 to $14.95.
Now, you might be thinking, wow this sounds great but my wife, girlfriend, buddies, whoever, may not like seafood so they wouldn’t want to go. Well, they also have some items for the nonseafood people.
On the back of the menu, there’s a chicken and steak section. You can get Stir- Fried Chicken, Broiled Chicken Breast, or Chicken Alfredo. They have three steaks, A small steak, 8oz. Filet, and 10oz Rib Eye. The prices here are from $13.95 to $18.95.
Next on the menu is the Lite Appetite. There are nine items. Some of these are smaller versions of some entrees. You can get Crab Legs (market price), Seafood Norfolk, Baked Fish in Casserole, to name a few. The prices are $9.45 to $10.95.
All of the dinners include your choice of assorted vegetables, or Chef’s bean casserole, or potatoes (french fried or twice baked) or rice. Most of the dinners except the Lite Appetite section are served with onion bouillon and salad bar.
The last section is the Desserts. The desserts change daily and are all home made. They usually have quite a variety of desserts available.
To drink, they serve Pepsi, Diet Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Storm, Lemonade, Tea, and Coffee. They also have a full service bar with mixed drinks, beer, and wine. They have wines from local sources as well as from Germany, France, and Australia.
If you have kids, you don’t have to worry about leaving them with someone. They have a very nice children’s menu. There are eight selections with the prices ranging from $2.95 to $7.95 (there’s only one item priced at $7.95, most are $2.95). The kids can get a fish sandwich, chicken nuggets, hot dog, french fried shrimp, a steak, french fried clam strips, bite size fried fish, or a chicken sandwich.
I was there during lunch and got to try some delicious food. They started me out with French Fried Onion Thins. These were great. They were very thin slices of onion, battered and fried. Kind of like onion rings but much thinner and not as much breading. Next, I had a cup of the Seafood Chowder. This is one of the number one items at the restaurant. After tasting it, I could see why. The chowder had shrimp and scallops with pieces of potato, with a very creamy base. I love chowder and this was terrific. One of the things I hate, is when you get chowder and it’s too runny and has small bits of seafood. This wasn’t a problem here. The scallops and shrimp were huge and the base was nice and thick. After the chowder, I had a shrimp cocktail. I love shrimp and these were delicious. They were served on a bed of ice. The cocktail sauce was perfect. The shrimp were about the size of my thumb. Not little tiny ones. The meal came with the salad bar and toast. The toast was in a basket and was white bread, smaller than sandwich bread, that had been baked with butter and sprinkled with seasonings. The salad bar was nice and had plenty of items. The lettuce was very fresh and the pieces quite large. There were seven different dressings. They also had a good variety of cold salads. I had the pea salad which was very good.
For the main course, I had the Friday special, Shrimp House Newburg. This is Shrimp, Scallops, and Lobster served over rice with a very thick, creamy white sauce with Sherry served over the top. You can get it served on a bed of buttered noodles if you prefer. This was a wonderful dish. The sauce was delicious and very thick and creamy. There was tons of shrimp, scallops, and lobster. It was quite a large helping, and I had to bring the rest home.
I finished of the meal with a piece of French Silk pie. This was great. Very chocolaty with lots of whipped cream and chocolate syrup across the top.
By the time I was done, I was more than full. Being a seafood lover, I was sorry that I hadn’t stopped in before.
The Key West Shrimp House is open for lunch from 11:00am to 2:00pm Tuesday through Saturday. They’re open for Dinner from 5:00pm to 9:00pm Tuesday through Friday. On Saturday they stay open till 10:00pm. Sunday they’re open from Noon to 8:00pm. Mondays they’re closed.
The Key West Shrimp House is handicap accessible. They are a non-smoking restaurant. They accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover, Diners, and American Express. No checks, but cash is okay. Seating capacity is approximately 100. They don’t take reservations. The busiest nights are Friday and Saturday.
One of the top priorities at Key West Shrimp House is the dining experience. Scott pays close attention to the details that make it a great experience. While I was there, he was helping out in the dining room. It was amazing the number of people he knew that were coming in.
Scott said that a lot of their business is repeat customers. They get customers from all over the local area and from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Louisville. One couple drives in from Michigan from time to time just for the Coconut Shrimp.
Scott said, “The number one reason people like coming here is the food. The second reason is the friendliness. People always talk about how friendly our servers are. People also like the atmosphere. Many of the employees have been at the restaurant for over ten years. This is very unusual in the restaurant business. Scott gives a lot of credit for the success of Key West to the employees.
“I like being here because I like the customers. I also have the best help in the world,” said Scott.
The Key West Shrimp House has a very nice website that has the menu, places to visit in Madison, and a calendar of events and more. To check them out on the web, go to www.keywestshrimphouse.com. To get to the restaurant, take State Road 56 from Scottsburg to Madison. Go straight into Madison through the downtown area, just as you are exiting town, you will pass the Hillside Hotel on the left, you can’t miss it. Just past this there’s a sign on the right hand side of the road pointing to the restaurant. They’re at 117 Ferry Street. For more information you can call 812-265-2831.
I was very satisfied with my visit. The food, the atmosphere, the people, everything was great. The Key West Shrimp House is very close to the river and after dinner you could take a walk along the bank. If you like seafood, or if you don’t (remember they have chicken and steaks), make plans to eat at the Key West Shrimp House. I wish I had known about the place sooner.