By Leslie Poythress
Do you ever crave a taste of coastal-island seafood but don’t want to make the drive to the coast? If so, then Jim Shaw’s Seafood Grill may satisfy your craving. On weekends, diners wait along the Vineville Avenue sidewalk for a coveted table at the restaurant. It is the place to go for a relaxing, laid-back dining experience mixed with good, Southern hospitality.
Founder and owner Skipper Zimmerman and his family have built their success for seventeen years by combining fresh ingredients simply but expertly. Zimmerman has been in the restaurant business for thirty-two years, ever since he was a Mercer University student. After working a few jobs in the Middle Georgia area, he moved to St. Simons Island. At St. Simons, he worked under the chef at Blanche’s Courtyard, one of the island’s most popular restaurants, and began his training in purchasing and preparing seafood.
After a brief hiatus from the island, the salt in Zimmerman’s veins sent him back to the coast, where he began working at The Crab Trap, which is, according to travel guru Frommer, the most popular seafood restaurant on St. Simons Island. There, Zimmerman struck gold. While garnering the skills he uses today at Jim Shaw’s Seafood Grill, he also met his wife, Belinda.
After returning to Macon in 1980, Zimmerman ventured out with his own business and opened Skippers on Riverside Drive. Five years later he opened a seafood market on Vineville Avenue. A year after opening his second business, Zimmerman moved the seafood market to the old La Vista location, and the restaurant opened as Jim Shaw’s Seafood Grill. When the 1994 flood forced the closing of his Riverside restaurant, he decided to follow the philosophy of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s: “Keep it simple.”
Zimmerman now concentrates on one, seafood-only restaurant, serving his seafood dishes fried, grilled, or blackened. He says he never forgets the wise words of his friend, Charlie Williams, one of the owners of The Crab Trap: “Raise the price if you have to, but never cut the quantity or quality of the food.”
Zimmerman apparently does his job well. The quality of the food he serves remains high, and some of the seafood platters are big enough for three people to share.
On our recent weeknight visit to Jim Shaw’s, my husband, son, and I were pleased to be seated immediately despite the crowded parking lot. The décor is Spartan, but you can tell the few decorations are reflections of someone who loves the sea. Just inside the entrance, a sailor’s lamp overlooks waiting customers, and nautical pictures and mementos of the sea adorn the walls. Wooden tables topped with condiments, baskets of crackers, and small oil lamps are packed into the relatively small dining area without making the place feel too overcrowded.
The bar is located on the left side of the restaurant and appears to be a great place to visit after work or on the weekend. The inside of the restaurant is cozy, with games, televisions, and a few tables for those wishing to socialize while they eat. The outside patio provides an option for smokers, who are not allowed to smoke inside.
Our friendly, knowledgeable waitress, Winnie, has been greeting and serving customers at Jim Shaw’s for fifteen years. After being seated, we were pleased to discover that we arrived in time for the Early Bird Specials. The specials include full meals for under $8.95 each. To start off, I chose the crab soup, which was filled with enough shredded crab meat to eat it with a fork. Michael’s New England clam chowder, another option, is a richly-flavored mixture of clam and potatoes. Other appetizer items include fried oysters and blackened alligator.
After our soup dishes were cleared, we enjoyed tossed salads topped with the fabulous, tangy house dressing—a family secret, made daily. Our entrees arrived in a timely manner and were steaming hot. Since we could not decide which type of seafood we wanted, we opted for the combination platters. My fried shrimp were wonderful, obviously fresh, and cooked simply, with no seasonings or frills. Both my husband and I had thickly-loaded crab cakes that contained a nice blend of spices. Delicious, battered, fresh-cut fries and excellent hushpuppies added the perfect touches to my meal. My husband’s savory, breaded, fried sea scallops were large and tender.
The fish selections of the day are posted on a chalkboard in the dining room. The night we were there, the selections included grouper, rainbow trout, tuna, salmon, tilapia, and mahi-mahi. All-you-can-eat catfish is another favorite. Grilled or raw oysters (at 30 cents each when we were there) and fried, grilled, or broiled shrimp can be added to any meal for creative combinations. For those not in the mood for seafood, the menu offers a twelve-ounce ribeye and a chicken breast. All dinners are served with a choice of tossed salad, spinach salad, or slaw; and either a baked potato, french fries, cheese grits, or the vegetable of the day.
We decided our three-year-old son’s initial dinner choice—crab legs—was a little too exotic, so he opted instead for fried tilapia. I tasted some of the overly-generous portion he received and found it to be the best I have ever had. Other children’s menu items include fried and boiled shrimp, chicken fingers, chicken breasts, and hamburgers. For only $3.95, children get a choice of two sides along with their entrée.
The best part of the service was Winnie’s patience with us. Whenever she appeared to offer us refills, our son demanded a conversation with her.
Toward the end of the meal, I slowed down to make room for dessert. Noticing that the menu’s only dessert item is homemade key-lime pie, my decision was easy to make. The dessert was so good that I may opt for the whole pie instead of the combination platter next time we return! The next time you are looking for good food, fair prices, and friendly service, visit Jim Shaw’s Seafood Grill. In this Central Georgia restaurant, you can experience a taste of the Golden Isles in Middle Georgia.
- Cuisine: Southern coastal
- Alcohol: Full bar
- Dress: Casual
- Capacity: Approximately 75
- Outstanding Specialties: Fresh oysters, fried shrimp, clam chowder, salads with house dressing, hush puppies
- Price Range: Entrées $8–$20
- Smoking: Not in main dining room; only in bar and on patio
- Children: Highchairs and boosters available; great children’s menu
- Hours: Dinner, Monday–Saturday
3040 Vineville Avenue, Macon