The act of consuming an entire lobster is decidedly paradoxical. On the surface it is a messy, unrefined process evoking connections to our once barbaric roots. But along with all the cracks, pops, and bare-handed breaks, you’re rewarded with the decadent, sweet, rich, and buttery essence of one of the most coveted proteins in the culinary world. Sadly, for those of us who call the Midwest home, the opportunities to enjoy fresh live lobsters from the coasts in this way are few.
That was until Smack Shack recently opened its doors in the North Loop area. Yet another “food truck to brick-and-mortar” story, Smack Shack has been long anticipated. Owner Josh Thoma created the enormous full-restaurant incarnation of Smack Shack after enjoying success with his food truck and its famous lobster rolls. The space inside is surprisingly large, with seating for scores of hungry lobster fans. The ambience is bustling and borderline hipster-esque in its cavernous warehouse space. Lobster traps and plaster lobster molds adorn the walls and checkered red tablecloths are reminiscent of outdoor lobster boils on the East Coast.
When Josh Thoma set out to create the restaurant version of his food truck, he didn’t settle for offering just lobster rolls. The behind-the-scenes infrastructure of Smack Shack is staggering, centering around an 1,100-gallon salt water tank specially built and designed for the restaurant. The tank holds 400 to 500 lobsters at any given time and is replenished with shipments of fresh, live lobsters six days a week. Chefs stand by as orders pour in, cooking many of the delicious crustaceans in the 100-gallon steam jacket kettle (above, top left) that greets diners as they walk in the door. All of the technology that goes into maintaining this large supply of fresh lobster is designed to support the demand of the many lobster-laden items on Smack Shack’s menu.
The full menu at Smack Shack is naturally seafood-centric with dishes featuring lobster, clams, oysters, crab, and fish. For the less seafood-minded there are also more terrestrial options including steaks, burgers, and salads. The drink menu features a variety of wines and beers along with other mixed cocktails, such as the hurricane, that pair well with Smack Shack’s coastal style of food.
The first item to arrive from our appetizer order was the lobster guacamole ($16, above top). Large chunks of sweet, slightly briny lobster meat sat atop a smooth and creamy preparation of guacamole. While we appreciated the freshness of the lobster, the size of the chunks was a bit cumbersome when we tried to get both lobster and guacamole on a single chip. Both the chips and guacamole were a touch too salty, which at times overpowered the delicate lobster.
Next to arrive was a bowl of Boston Clam “Chowda” ($6, above bottom right) with oyster crackers. The chowder was rich and creamy with a touch of saltiness from bacon. We felt the chowder was a little light on the clam but enjoyed it overall. The final appetizer was a side of lobster mac and cheese ($10, above bottom left). In this dish, al dente elbow macaroni was dressed in a mixture of melted taleggio cheese, chives, and lobster. The combination of gooey cheese and sweet lobster was delightful, while bread crumbs provided a welcomed textural contrast. However, that quantity of lobster was slightly lacking.
No visit to Smack Shack would be complete without sampling the lobster roll that started it all. The lobster roll ($16, above left) featured a refreshing salad of lobster, tarragon, and cucumber on griddled milk toast. The combination of flavors in the lobster roll actually became more prominent and enjoyable as we took more bites. The sweet, oceanic flavor of lobster was perfectly complemented by the herbaceous quality of tarragon and the freshness of the cucumber. A spritz of lemon juice elevated the flavor with a zing of citrus. The side of chips was very crispy, but sadly over salted.
The final plate of the night was Smack Shack’s new flagship menu item, the lobster boil. The boil comes with the featured lobster along with potatoes, corn, coleslaw, drawn butter seasoned with Old Bay, and toast. This dish is ordered by lobster weight, with a minimum of a 1.5-pound lobster ($29 per pound). The lobster boil pictured above was a two-pound order with sides for two. It was a colossal presentation of lobster that turned heads as it made its way from the kitchen to our table.
The lobster is cooked in the aforementioned steam jacket kettle in a broth seasoned with Old Bay. Breaking into the lobster was a messy affair, but one that was certainly rewarding. The lobster was cooked well (although the residual heat eventually made later-consumed sections a bit overcooked) and the mild spiciness of the seasoning in the broth carried nicely into the meat. A few splashes of lemon juice and a dip into the drawn butter made the lobster boil a particularly flavorful experience. However, the accompanying sides would have benefited from a tad more seasoning.
For those who are less comfortable with breaking down an entire lobster, Smack Shack offers a “lazy lobster” variation of this dish ($2 upcharge) with the tail removed and the claws already cracked. We opted for the non-lazy version to not only get the full hands-on experience, but also to have access to the torso portion of the lobster that contains the tomalley — the soft, green innards of the lobster. While not for everyone, fans of offal would enjoy the lobster tomalley as a pseudo seafood pate, which was delicious spread on the provided toast.
Smack Shack brings a refreshing and exciting segment of seafood to Minneapolis in a fun, lively atmosphere. The level of commitment and investment to ensure the lobster’s freshness was evident throughout the dishes we sampled. Despite a few missteps in seasoning, Smack Shack delivers an enjoyable (albeit pricey) exploration of lobster.
Seafood specialty in the North Loop
603 Washington Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
OWNER / CHEF: Josh Thoma / Josh Thoma and Jason Schellin
HOURS: Mon-Thurs 11am to midnight; Friday-Sat 11am to 1am; Sun 9am-2pm (brunch) and 11am to 11pm
BAR: Beer, wine, and extended bar
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Limited / Limited
ENTREE RANGE: $16-$45