Forget the flowers and the chocolate, I Heart Smack Shack. My equation for the perfect Valentine involves lobster.
Sure, it’s always been available on menus geared to plutocrats (“market price” is a code name for “max out your credit card”). But now, my darling Smack Shack—of humble food truck and 1029 Bar origin—brings it plebian pricing of luxe lobster to North Washington, in a cavernous warehouse space sporting industrial ceiling, garage doors and cement floor, with dishtowels-as-napkins and checkered cloths on the tables. The room (with bar in front and diner-counter seating, too) is deliberately anti-swank, and served by motivational counselors in the guise of servers.
And the prices rock. The Shack’s familiar faves rule here, too: lobster roll ($16), lobster mac and cheese ($10), the shrimp or sausage po’ boys ($11-13). But then, a vast kitchen—a first—allows the crew to expand its mission: Think lobster cioppino ($32), a complete New England lobster boil ($30 per pound), and our choice, the Lonely Lobster (no sides, save for a bowl of celery-scented dipping broth, melted butter and lively, herb-laced fennel slaw), $26. The critter’s flavor was as sweet as a Valentine smooch, and just as, um, juicy. Perfectly timed.
But we didn’t stop there, nossir! Start, I implore you, with the pair of lobster corn dogs ($10), an addictive improvement on the State Fair staple featuring gently-battered claw meat accompanied by an elite lemon-chive aioli dip (or go for the lobster guacamole, untasted). Or—you can’t hide their blue collars by gussying the boys in chefs’ whites—Smack wings with bacon-blue cheese dressing.
Next, some inspired, additions, namely, tacos ($7 up). We savored the mahi version, whose flaky flesh came embellished with cabbage tendrils and corn salsa; even better, short ribs boasting the hotcha hit of pickled Fresno peppers and ancho garlic mayo.
Our only disappointment: Boston-style clam chowder—long on potatoes and sweet, gluey base but short on critters. (Clams also are offered via the raw bar, as are oysters.)
But wait, as they say on late-night TV, there’s more! As in a warm duck salad. As in tile fish with roasted beets. Short ribs. Flank steak with bacon/tomato sauce. (Remember, Chef/patron Josh Thoma cut his incisors in fine-dining kitchens.) So we gravitated to the Southern fried chicken ($12), perfectly—perfectly!—prepared, with crisp, fresh-from-the-fryer batter jacketing oh-so-flavorful, juicy meat). It’s served with sausage gravy to die for (and I probably will). The envy of any Dixie diner, it’s ultra-thick and creamy, plentifully marbled with meat). Which means, we succumbed to a side of mashed potatoes—called “pureed” here, which tells you they’re smooth as Cream O Wheat—but far, far richer.
For dessert, lots of enticing options ($6), but, just back from Kentucky, myself, I yearned for hair of the dog, which meant the Bourbon bread pudding. This is the real deal: a heavy slice encrusted with nuts and raisins and, more to the point, plenty of Kentucky Bourbon, then sided with ice cream and wimpy (for shame) whipped cream.
Other alcoholic options: Well-chosen wines (all BTG) and beers at decidedly fair prices. Creative cocktails and oyster shooters, too. So, now that you know where to take me for my birthday….
603 Washington Ave. N.