Wait no more! In Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Park, the falls are gushing, the trees are leafing out, and Sea Salt Eatery, the Louisiana-Cajun-style fish shack housed in the old concessions building and spilling out delightfully on the adjoining umbrella’d patio, has flung open its doors for the season. The wait was longer than usual this year. And, if you’ve been a fan of Sea Salt since it opened in 2006, you know know that long waits — at home over winter for the season to start, in the snaking line at the restaurant on a glorious summer day to place your order, and at your table for your food to emerge from the kitchen — can almost be the theme of a visit to Sea Salt.
But that’s all changed. Owners John Blood and Chris Weglinski delayed the restaurant’s opening three weeks this year to complete Sea Salt’s kitchen remodel. “We’ve expanded our kitchen in every way,” says Manager Jeff Erkkila, who previously worked at Coastal Seafoods alongside Blood and Weglinski. This means shorter wait times for customers, both in line and at the table, and greater flexibility for the restaurant to experiment with daily menu specials, particularly with soups and cold items such as salads.
According to Erkkila, the core menu is unchanged from last year. The daily specials are still driven by what’s fresh that day. And how fresh can the seafood be? “Fresh,” says Erkkila. “We get flights in every day.” Every day? “Every day, except Sunday.” Then Erkkila proceeded to recite, Bubba Gump-like, all the coasts from which the seafood hails: East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast… But, even on Sunday, says Erkkila, because of the owners’ long-standing relationship with Twin Cities-based Coastal Seafoods, which supplies 200+ area restaurants with fresh seafood (and has been doing so for 27 years, according to its website), the Sea Salt Eatery squad can get access to the warehouse to choose what’s best.
So, what’s best? The fried oyster po’ boy sandwich (also known in New Orleans as an oyster loaf), at $12.95, is a delightful study of contrasts of textures and flavors. Juicy oysters, eight to 10 of them, still plump with the taste of the sea, are coated with cornmeal and spices, then fried until crisp, and served atop cool, crisp shredded lettuce on a buttered and seasoned (Cajun-seasoning) grilled, white hoagie bun. Tartar sauce, sliced tomatoes and a shake of Tabasco complete the sandwich. I recall that in prior years, the sandwich was made with a spicy mayonnaise instead of tartar sauce, but my memory apparently isn’t what it used to be: Erkkila says that it’s always been tartar sauce, except that in the past the Tabasco was mixed into the sauce, rather than drizzled separately over the top.
Po’ boy purists might quibble that it’s the flaky-crusted Louisiana French bread that makes a po’ boy and the Block & Barrel hoagie bun doesn’t cut it, that tartar sauce is all wrong, and the customer should be asked how he wants his po’ boy dressed rather than having it fully dressed automatically, but I say it’s the oysters that make the po’ boy, and, way up at this end of the Missippippi River, Sea Salt does great justice to oysters.
Other po’ boy options include crawfish, catfish, shrimp, or fried fish ($9.95). But there’s more than just po’ boys: tacos, from grilled veggie ($4.95 for two) to grilled marlin ($6.95 for two), on a corn tortilla with cilantro, onions, and a mild homemade salsa are a good bet, as are several of the appetizers: shrimp cocktail ($7.95), fried calamari ($8.95), or oysters on the half-shell ($2.50 each; $26 per dozen). If you’re a bargain-seeking seafood lover, then gather up a friend or three and order the oil pan to share: a dozen oysters on the half shell, 18 peel-and-eat shrimp, pickled herring, and either a pitcher of beer or a bottle of house wine. They even offer a vegetarian-friendly walnut burger ($7.95) for the seafood averse. And, don’t forget to consider the ever-changing soups and menu specials, in case something along the lines of the blackened catfish with red beans and shrimp or red Thai shrimp curry might call to you.
You waited for spring, but it doesn’t intend to wait for you. Round up the kids, hop on your bike, steer towards the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, and get over to Sea Salt Eatery before the season slips away. No bike? No problem. Rent one while you’re there.
Sea Salt Eatery
Seafood in Longfellow
4801 Minnehaha Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55417
OWNERS: John Blood and Chris Weglinski
Open April through October
Daily 11am-8pm until Memorial Day; perhaps extended hours after that
BAR: Wine and beer
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $5-19