Johnny and Dorothea Carter offer magical Southern seafood platters on the South Side.
Word of mouth is a powerful thing. That is, unless, no one is talking. For a while, that was the case with Shrimp Lips, whose regulars apparently loved the South Side seafood carryout so much they refused to tell others about it, laughs co-owner Dorothea Carter.
But the secret is now very much out: Shrimp Lips is pure, Southern-style seafood boil joy. A mix-and-match menu of expertly prepared, Cajun-spiced seafood platters, sandwiches, à la carte shrimp and crab, and hearty sides is impressively served from this former Dairy Corner on Parsons Avenue.
The finesse comes from Johnny and Dorothea Carter’s previous life of fishing, crabbing and days spent cleaning and cooking fresh seafood at home in Southern Florida. Over the years they’ve learned how to build depth of flavor—“loosening up the pot” as Dorothea calls it—with eggs, corn and turkey necks.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
The Carters relocated to Columbus roughly a decade ago and not long after began selling food from their South Side home, at the encouragement of their kids. So many neighbors clamored for a taste of Dorothea’s seafood boil, the couple opened a food truck five years ago, and the brick-and-mortar followed in January. (A new Shrimp Lips food truck hit the streets this summer.)
Seafood arrives a few times a week from the Gulf (upwards of 400 pounds to satisfy the growing demand). The menu offerings are intentionally designed to fill you up no matter your budget. For example, a hearty bowl of creamy, three-cheese mac ’n’ cheese comes topped with fresh lobster ($6.50); the sames goes for the Cajun-spiced lobster fries ($8 small, $10.50 large).
Served in a crunchy, deep-fried pita shell, the shrimp taco ($13.99) is closer kin to a sandwich, but it’s too good to get caught up in semantics. It’s stuffed with crisp lettuce, tomato and Cajun fried shrimp chopped to bite-size pieces. The red sauce spits and pops like a live wire with chile, cayenne and ginger.
The fish and shrimp platter ($23.99) is like an upgraded fish and chips: two large pieces of flaky cod wearing a perfect, light jacket of salty breading accompany shell-on Cajun shrimp gorgeously sun-kissed by a hot pan and doused in Shrimp Lips’ signature butter sauce, heavy on the garlic. Or opt for satisfying fried shrimp with a sneaky heat.
But if you’re looking to get the most for your money, the Carter Platter ($44.99) is a great sample of everything they do. Lobster tail, shrimp and crab legs are all doused in that signature butter sauce you’ll be gratefully licking off your fingers for days. It comes with all the trimmings—tender corn on the cob, snappy sausage, potato and egg. Add a few ping-pong sized, savory hush puppies ($1.99 for four) to your order if you can.
Non-seafood eaters, the Philly Steak ($11.99) is your order: a perfectly toasted bun with griddled steak, peppers, onions and greens topped with cheese sauce and a spicy remoulade. Plus, fries sprinkled with that magic Cajun dust.
As for the name Shrimp Lips, as smile-inducing as the food the Carters serve, that came from Johnny’s pet name for Dorothea. “My husband used to call me the little tiny shrimp lips. He’d say, ‘You eat so many shrimp, girl,’” Dorothea says. “People love the name.”
Agreed—the name is great. But I’d argue the food is even better—just don’t tell anyone.