I just got off the phone with Josh Thoma, owner of the little lobster-truck-that-could. Projected opening date for the brick and mortar, alcohol license and credit card, bathroom-and-chair restaurant? July! “This summer, definitely,” he told me.
If you don’t know about the Smack Shack, I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your lobster-time—it’s the little truck-with-home-base-at-a-Northeast bar that could. Last year its lobster roll was voted one of the best in the country by Bon Appetit magazine, no ocean front real estate required, and they were recently featured in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, which caused lines out the door and forced Thoma to hire six more cooks. Of course, Thoma’s no stranger to running big operations, Smack Shack is his up-from-the-ashes, after he lost his many stakes in many significant local restaurants, including Solera, La Belle Vie, Barrio, and Bar La Grassa, either because he was a dope or a criminal, depending on who you believe. Whoever you believe, his truck has been serving truly fantastic food, the lobster roll, light and fresh, with big scarlet chunks of lobster and fresh leaves of tarragon, all of it nestled in buttery grilled soft bread, is as close to perfect as sandwiches get, and the lobster-talleggio mac-and-cheese is exquisite. And so in July, here comes the big, real restaurant. More details: There will be a big, shallow, live lobster tank so you can see the lobsters a’climbing and a’clawing; you’ll be able to get full lobster boils of both little 1¼ and 1½ pound lobsters, but also platters with the big four or six pound ones. For the non-lobster eaters there will be fried chicken and herb biscuits, from local chef Pat Weber’s family recipe (Weber, one-time chef of Mojito in St. Louis Park, is a local cooking instructor and longtime friend of Thoma’s who is consulting for Smack Shack.) The restaurant will have 200 seats, and a 70-seat patio, and the space is ringed by garage doors, bi-fold patio doors, and an old train door, which will allow the inside space to feel like it’s outside. He tells me it’s something like the way the Brasa locations feel, with the line between inside and outside blurred. For fans of the truck and the 1029 location, fear not, both will continue. In fact, the new Smack Shack opening may bring good news to the 1029 fans, as Thoma tells me he’ll use that place to test, “new ideas, and things that don’t fit in with the Smack Shack concept.” Cheese steaks? Porchetta? Etouffe? After seeing the miracles Thoma has worked by building a better lobster roll, I’m eager to try anything else he’s got—at the new restaurant in July, and beyond. Smack Shack, 603 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., smack-shack.com (in July)