Is there a type of eatery more romanticized than the seafood shack? You don't often get the chance, living in New York, to sit outdoors at a picnic table, chowing down on steamers, fried oysters, lobster rolls, and all the other clamshack favorites. You do, however, have access to plenty of restaurants mimicking these seafood shacks to varying effect.
One such restaurant is BLT Fish's Fish Shack. While upstairs at BLT Fish, visitors dine on upscale seafood, downstairs is the Fish Shack, which, while owned and run by the same people, supposedly serves shack-style cuisine for more moderate prices. We stopped by last week to see what a meal of appetizers and small plates from the Fish Shack would look like.
Instead of a bread basket, the Fish Shack offers its diners a big roll, cut into wedges, slathered with garlic butter and topped with dried herbs and cheddar cheese. Cheesy garlic bread: strange but delicious. An inventive bread basket is often a great sign of things to come, so my hopes were high for our meal.
An order of Fried Oysters ($12) came served in a kitschy paper cup with wooden forks and tartar and cocktail sauces on the side. The batter was crispy and light, coating plump, fresh oysters. The homemade tartar sauce was nice and tangy, while the cocktail sauce needed more horseradish for kick. For six oysters, these didn't seem to justify the price.
A better value, though less exciting, was the Lettuce Wedge with Blue Cheese ($9). Not something you often see at seafood shacks, but it is something that's usually pretty enjoyable. Here it was served with a tangy, creamy vinaigrette and topped with plenty of crumbled blue cheese, crispy bacon bits, thinly sliced radish and a mound of crispy fried onions. The fresh, crisp lettuce made a fine canvas for these flavorful toppings, and the salad was tasty, but certainly not the most exciting dish in the world.
Our Clam Roll ($16) had about 8 plump fried clams, precariously balancing on limp, shredded lettuce and a toasted bun. While the clams were delicious, the rest of the sandwich seemed like an afterthought and it fell apart with the lightest touch—forget about cutting it in half to share, or even picking it up. Meanwhile, the fries that come served with the sandwich would have been perfect—crisp outside, fluffy exterior—if not for extreme oversalting that made them a pain to eat. We wished we'd just ordered the fried clams. Even worse was the side of Fried Stuffed Jalapenos ($7)—they had no bite, and their filling was some sort of cheddar/cream cheese combination that ended up with an unpleasant grainy texture. These needed some kind of dipping sauce, although I'm not sure that would have saved them. It's hard to make a boring jalapeno popper, but here we were.
The seafood at the Fish Shack was all fresh and fairly tasty, but nothing we ate was particularly memorable, and we spent a fortune in Apps Only terms: $23/person on food before tax and tip. Manhattan has a number of places that serve decent re-creations of this shack cuisine, and the Fish Shack at BLT Fish is not one of the better ones. There's no reason to pay these prices when other options are out there—Pearl Oyster Bar, Mary's Fish Camp, and Ed's Lobster Bar (which has been featured in this space before) all come to mind. (One caveat: happy hour at the bar runs from 5-7pm, with $1 oysters and discounts on drinks. Can't argue with that deal.)