Saltbox Seafood Joint is a three year-old venture that provides fresh seafood downtown. It is the sort of place everyone would expect to set up in Durham.
The first thing guests will notice is its size. The shop itself is tiny, barely large enough to house a kitchen and a few staff members. There is no indoor seating, but there are tables out front for some warm-weather dining. In the winter, diners often wait in their cars and scurry back and forth across Mangum street to fetch their fish. Luckily, parking is ample.
The path leading up to the shop is made of oyster shells, which was a creative choice.
When you get to the counter, check out the menu for the list of today’s catch. The head chef, Ricky Moore, drives to the coast every day to purchase fresh fish. Everything you eat for lunch or dinner was swimming that morning. This is the definition of fresh and local.
If you peer into the hut, you can see Chef Moore (left) finishing up the last details of your meal. The team stays in the kitchen making seafood until 7pm or when the fish runs out. A reading of their twitter feed shows that this early closure happens quite often.
This dogfish roll was passed through the window into eager hands. Everything comes in a paper boat with disposable utensils.
Ah, the Spicy Dogfish Roll ($13). It is rubbed with a Jamaican jerk blend, marinated, and grilled. The result is a blackened, not-too-spicy piece of fish that is moist and flavorful. It is served between a soft, crusty roll and a pile of slaw.
The fish is amazingly moist and tender. A nice juxtaposition with the blackened crust.
Every meal comes with freshly made tartar and cocktail sauces. The tartar sauce isn’t thick and gloppy, but pours easily over the fish. The cocktail sauce is sweet and tangy, and both have ample flecks of fresh herbs within.
We also tried the Croaker Plate ($14), which is scored, draped in corn flour, salt & pepper, then fried. This gluten-free item is very crispy, with that familiar cracking sound heard as your fork tears through fried flour. Inside is a light fish with many tiny bones, so proceed with caution as you peel back the crunchy skin.
As with the other plates, it sits atop a throne of fried potatoes. Like thick-cut chips, they are a combination of crispy and soggy, depending on the thickness of any particular slice. They are a great tool for dipping into the homemade sauces.
Saltbox is an interesting place. You have to respect a chef who rises daily to reach the Atlantic Ocean’s edge for supplies. The menu changes seasonally as the aquatic ecosystem offers new delicious fare. Everyone who stumbles across this place feels as if they’ve unearthed a hidden gem within the bull city. Be the next to appreciate this emerald.
Saltbox Seafood Joint
608 N Mangum Street, Durham, NC 27701