Some 20 shrimp variations are to be found at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in West Edmonton Mall, including these delicious coconut shrimps. Photos by GRAHAM HICKS/EDMONTON SUN

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Second Level, West Edmonton Mall – overlooking Santa Maria, below Cineplex Scotiabank Theatre complex
780-244-4867
Bubbagump.com

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, Fri. and Sat. to 11 p.m.

No listed delivery service

Food:  4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two without tip or beverages: Basic, $40; loaded $70

By GRAHAM HICKS

Stating the obvious … but if you don’t like shrimp, don’t go to Bubba Gump’s!

Actually, that’s not true.

While 20 shrimp variations are on the menu, also for the eating are chicken wings, chowder, salads, fish and chicken sandwiches, burgers, ribs, steak, crab legs and a decent selection of other fish dishes – fish ‘n’ chips, mahi-mahi, salmon, flounder and tilapia.

The new restaurant in West Edmonton Mall’s Level 2 – overlooking the Santa Maria, immediately below the Cineplex Scotiabank Theatre complex – is a study in the American genius for chain restaurants.

There are 42 existing Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants, mostly in the USA, but also in tourism-based destinations the world over.  This one, incidentally, is the first in Canada.

I’m sure this Bubba Gump outlet is very close in décor, style and menu to the others – beautifully thought out down to the last detail, happy, cheerful … with lots and lots of very good, mostly deep-fried shrimp.

The back-story originates in the 1994 release of Tom Hanks’ runaway successful movie, the quirky, lovable Forrest Gump.

Some smart marketing person at Paramount Pictures saw the potential for a restaurant concept, based on scenes from the film where Vietnam veteran Forrest Gump lucks out in the shrimp fishing business – using the profits to support the family of his killed-in-action pal Bubba, and to give his disabled former platoon leader a job.

Paramount put out a hospitality proposal, for a restaurant company to open a chain of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants.

Landry’s – one of the USA’s top hospitality groups with some 50 restaurant chains (none familiar to Canadians), casinos, hotels etc., won the bid. The first Bubba Gump opened two years after the movie.  Landry’s has been expanding the brand ever since.

In its press releases, the Bubba Gump chain claims to be the first restaurant theme based on a movie. Be that as it may, using the Forrest Gump theme is brilliant marketing.

Everybody has at least heard of, and probably watched (several times) the original movie.

The tone of the film is echoed in the restaurant décor, with several TV screens showing Forrest Gump – or scenes from it – at all hours.  Inside jokes abound, in the menu names, especially in the “Go Forrest Go” and “Stop Forrest Stop” references. The restaurant manages, even within  the confines of an indoor mall, to feel just a little bit ocean-side – though mall air is no substitute for an ocean breeze. An amusing Forrest Gump merchandising shop is just off the entrance.

The ping-pong paddle drinks menu is a cute Forrest Gump reference.

It’s not going to be gourmet – that’s hardly expected – but the food, both shrimp and otherwise, is surprisingly good.

We went with the calamari as an appetizer, the “Accidental Fish”  (a flounder filet) and an order of “Dumb Luck” Coconut Shrimp, because who doesn’t like coconut shrimp?

All gave decent value, both in quantity and quality.  The calamari arrived in a cone, deep-fried of course but with an interesting rough-textured breading. Mixed in were deep-fried shrimp bits, a touch of jalapeno, and two dipping sauces, one mildly spicy, the other a gentle aioli. Of  course the appetizer quickly disappeared.

Interesting, rough-textured breaded calamari with shrimp bits.

Likewise, the order of coconut shrimp ($23), a generous serving of plump, coconut-flavoured deep-fried shrimp made to look bigger with lots of fries. As any cook knows, mix crunch, sweet coconut and moist soft shrimp; the average addictive appetite will always eat far more than what’s good for us. But, geez, it was finger-lickin’ good.

I was impressed by the Accidental Fish + Shrimp ($24), first of all for featuring flounder, which is an unusual fish to find in restaurants.

While the filet had not been marinated in its lemon-butter sauce, it was not deep-fried, was not over-cooked, had decent texture and distinctive flavour. The attractive presentation came on a tender bed of jasmine rice with chunks of flavour-complimentary fresh tomato.

Bubba Gump’s very tasty and properly cooked filet of flounder.

All in all, a very well-thought out, fun dining experience, with something for everybody, good value and service – a vast cut above the bare-bones fast-food experience of most American chains. For whose who worry about running out of conversation mid-way through a meal, the Forrest Gump theme provides plenty to talk about.

Be warned, there’s no reservation system and during peak hours your party may have to wait 10 to 30 minutes.