Shrimp Dock serves up gator meat for game day
Gator meat was abundant. Vol fan confidence was high. Hotels were full. And tickets were scarce and expensive.
That's the way it was on the day before the annual Tennessee-Florida football game.
At the Shrimp Dock restaurant in Bearden, fans who came to chomp on gator found themselves being filmed by ESPN for a segment to be shown today.
Shrimp Dock co-owner Becky Dangel said that nearly a ton of gator meat had been ordered for the company's three stores. Much of that meat was sold in to-go orders for tailgating.
Offerings at the restaurant included gator sausage, a gator Po Boy sandwich, gator gumbo and gator ribs.
"It was awesome," said fan Lori Garland, a regular Shrimp Dock customer. Alligator meat "is a little like chicken with a fishy taste."
This is the second year she's made it a point to come for the gator meat: "I come here about once a month, but I came today to see all of this," she said Friday.
Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon — 28 hours before kickoff — a few fans were standing along the west end of Cumberland Avenue, holding "I Need Tickets" signs.
"With both teams being undefeated and (it being a) powerful rivalry, it's no wonder that (tickets are) in high demand," said Shannon Barbara, spokeswoman for the online ticket broker StubHub.
As of 4:30 p.m., StubHub had 286 tickets left. Prices ranged from $182, in the upper level end zone, to $600 each for second-row seats in Section T. Another lower-level sideline ticket sold for $899, she said.
Overall, an average StubHub ticket for today's University of Tennessee-Florida game was selling for more than $40 above the going rate for the same game a year ago.
Knoxville hotel rooms are hard to come by.
The Knoxville Marriott, 501 E. Hill Ave., reported it was booked up for Saturday, as was the Hampton Inn & Suites, 618 W. Main Ave., according to Cody Biggs, assistant general manager at that hotel.
"Before the last game, we were not sold out," he said. "After UT got back in the rankings, anticipation has increased at all the businesses downtown."
Renie Carroll, general manager of the Country Inn & Suites Knoxville at Cedar Bluff, 9137 Cross Park Drive, said all rooms there are booked for Saturday.
"Florida is always the biggest game for us," she said. "We have a lot of repeat guests who are UT fans who stay for every game, and we have a lot of Florida fans."
UT also helps fill the Country Inn when it plays Alabama or South Carolina, Carroll said. Business is especially heavy when UT is in a winning mode, she said.
"Next weekend, we are hoping if UT wins it will boost sales even more," Carroll said.
Back at the Shrimp Dock, the Bearden store was decked out for an especially festive atmosphere.
"We do like to make a party out of it," Dangel said.
Outside, an inflated green gator was hanging from a noose. It twisted slowly, slowly in the wind.
The University of Tennessee cheerleaders, Smokey the dog and his humanoid imitation counterpart mascot soon arrived. Before long, both mutts were pouncing on the vile reptile, as the ESPN camera crew filmed it all and more.
The gator meat was prepared by the Shrimp Dock's grillmaster, Larry Rae.
"I get a lot of questions (from customers) about how to prepare gator meat," he said.
Other restaurants also were preparing for the game-day rush.
"We started gearing up (Thursday) for the Saturday game," said Steve Arment, assistant manager of the Copper Cellar restaurant on Cumberland Avenue. "We had to park a semi truck outside the restaurant to handle all the food we will need. And every single person who works for us is here. There is no such thing for a day off on game day."