Shari Jenkins and Mark Hagan on the Opening of Tipsy Mermaid
We are pleased to feature Shari Jenkins and Mark Hagan on our cover this month. Anyone who has frequented Jenkins’ destination restaurants Noah Grant’s Grill House & Oyster Bar and Salty Cowboy in downtown Zionsville is familiar with Jenkins’ reputation for excellent food and outstanding service.
It should come as no surprise to her friends and fans that she is aiming to bring another element of fun and flavor to Main Street with her latest endeavor: Tipsy Mermaid: Conch House & Cocktails.
Bringing the best of Key West to the Midwest, Jenkins and her longtime friend and general manager Mark Hagan have been working on this project for several years and are beyond excited to see it come to fruition by the end of 2022.
Creating a Trifecta of Culinary Exceptionalism
One could argue that Jenkins—a lifelong resident of Zionsville—has the Midas touch when it comes to operating food and beverage establishments. But for those who have worked alongside her at her two existing restaurants over the years, they know that it’s Jenkins’ standards of quality and superb work ethic that have awarded her success and distinguishment in the culinary scene in Indiana and throughout the Midwest. Jenkins along with her staff have created night life along the historic brick street and have created a hip vibe for locals and visitors to enjoy year-round.
When asked about the inspiration behind Tipsy Mermaid, Jenkins said, “Key West is hands down my favorite city. I spend a lot of time there. The food is so different down there, and it’s eclectic—there’s so many different cultures that I want to bring here [Zionsville]. It’s unique, and there’s nothing around here that has Bahamian, Cuban and Keys cultures. It will be nice to have another fun and upbeat place to go and still get quality food on Main Street.”
Just as Noah Grant’s is famous for its oyster bar, Tipsy Mermaid will be known for featuring appetizers and dishes featuring conch. Often recognized for the decorative spiral shell, conch can be consumed raw, fried, steamed and stewed. It is a popular ingredient in ceviche, salads and sushi dishes.
“For me, it’s a texture thing,” Jenkins said. “I love texture, which is why I love calamari and scallops. Just like those, conch has to be prepared and cooked properly so that it’s not too chewy. It’s a fun ingredient. There will be a lot of conch on the menu including conch fritters, conch ceviche and items that you don’t find around here.”
When asked if it was difficult to procure fresh ingredients such as conch, Jenkins noted that it isn’t a challenge for her because she has developed strategic relationships with quality vendors over the many years that she’s been in the restaurant industry. Her only issues are the remodeling of the existing building that will eventually house Tipsy Mermaid and the fact that the cost of food and supplies have doubled since 2020, which is impacting all proprietors in that industry—nationwide.
Influenced by Cultures and Hemingway
The Tipsy Mermaid experience will offer exquisite food and top-shelf cocktails as well as quality cigars for enthusiasts.
We got a sneak peek at the work-in-progress menu—lunch and dinner offer the same fare—that Jenkins has been developing for nearly four years. It will contain delectable fare such as conch fritters served with guava marmalade, horseradish and key lime mustard and “Drunken Beer Shrimp,” a half pound of beer-steamed peel-and-eat shrimp served with a tequila cocktail sauce, and the “Havana Hipster,” Cuban pulled pork in a mojo marinade with crispy shoestring potatoes and, of course, conch chowder.
Another detail we noted while perusing the draft of the menu was the overarching Hemingway theme.
“The menu will feature our ‘Four Wives of Hemingway,’” Jenkins stated. “It’s a ceviche flight made with mahi-mahi, conch, scallops and shrimp. Each one is going to be tied to each of Hemingway’s wives.”
Jenkins jested, “And didn’t you know—I’m Hemingway’s fifth wife?”
Something else that is also very new to the area and to the Midwest in general, Jenkins will be introducing her signature take on a Key West staple: Fish Dip.
“I’m super excited about this fish dip because nobody does a smoked fish dip up here and every place in Key West has a smoked fish dip recipe. And I’ve finally nailed that recipe,” Jenkins expressed. “Fish dip is a cool and creamy dip topped with pickled onions and rep peppers. We will serve it with blue corn chips.”
Again, the menu is heavily influenced by Cuban, Bahamian and Keys flavors and traditional recipes with Jenkins’ own special twist.
We look forward to also trying the Cuban Po’ Boy, the Mahi-mahi on the Beach tacos, the Blue Macaw quesadilla, and the “305”—an entrée named for the Keys’ area code. It features squid ink pasta, Key West pink shrimp, Bay scallops, grate tomatoes, basil and a creamy Burrata cheese with white wine, garlic and lemon sauce.
The brunch and dessert menu are equally as tantalizing. Tipsy Mermaid will offer brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Patrons can look forward to a Blue Macaw Bloody Mary and Duval Street Hangover tacos, along with a Key West Cuban Breakfast Sandwich: pulled pork, honey ham fried eggs, guacamole, Swiss cheese, horseradish, lime and key lime mustard served on Cuban bread with crispy potatoes and chimichurri sauce. Jenkins will offer several enticing desserts, such as her take on a Key Lime pie with rum whipped cream, and a slew of themed cocktails, including a Key Lime Pie martini.
Re-creating a Familiar Space
Tipsy Mermaid will be located at 135 South Main Street—formerly the location of Serenity Café & Tea Room. The website is currently under development.
Jenkins and Hagan shared with us the current plans for the remodel that will begin after the first of June. Because of her reputation for building strong teams and paying her staff well, Jenkins isn’t concerned about having the proper staff in place in time for the grand opening.
“This is going to be a brand-new experience for our guests,” Jenkins said. “Tipsy Mermaid will be an 18 and older establishment—18 years along with a parent. It will be bar-centric, and you are going to see a lot of color. The new addition that is going in where the patio currently is will boast a 25-foot-tall vaulted ceiling along with a rope light that we’ve commissioned and will be a focus of art when you walk in. When asked why she selected Hagan to be the general manager of her latest endeavor, she replied, “Because [Mark] is perfect. He’s smart and hardworking and pays attention to details. We go to Key West all the time, and he knows the Keys through my eyes as well as his own eyes, so I don’t have to teach him the culture of the Keys. And we’re best friends.”
Hagan has been with Jenkins since shortly after Salty Cowboy opened. He is also a full-time firefighter with the Whitestown Fire Department. Hagan looks forward to serving the community in another capacity, one in which he gets to help create memorable and fun experiences for his patrons that frequent Tipsy Mermaid.
“I’ve never worked at any other restaurants before, so I have nothing to compare it to,” Hagan stated. “But Shari’s restaurants are fun environments. The best part of this, I get to help put it all together from the start and have my stamp on this along with Shari’s. And it is my hope that Tipsy Mermaid will whisk people away for the couple of hours that they’re with us, transport them out of Zionsville and allow them to make believe that they’re in Key West and near the ocean.”
Both Jenkins and Hagan expressed their sincerest appreciation for the community’s support over the years. Jenkins is especially grateful to her patrons who have seen her through some pretty difficult challenges that include the fire that displaced Noah Grant’s and, of course, the pandemic.
“For me, it’s all about community, creating memories and enjoying life experiences,” Jenkins emphasized. “I am excited to bring another level of fun and excitement to Main Street and look forward to bringing the best of the Keys to share with Zionsville and our surrounding communities.”
Be sure to follow Tipsy Mermaid on Facebook for updates on the establishment’s grand opening.