Come summer, Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood is going to be swimming in lobster rolls, because in a fantastic bit of role reversal, a food truck is launching a bricks-and-mortar version of itself.
Not just any food truck, but the wildly successful Smack Shack, now entering its third crowd-pleasing season.
Co-owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald are opening a permanent home for their lobster roll-po' boy phenomenon, moving into a former warehouse space at Washington Avenue N. and 6th Avenue N. (the restaurant is going into the one-story structure in the above photograph; the taller building to the right is being converted into luxury rental apartments).
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do with the truck,” said Thoma. "We looked at a lot of spaces, and when we walked into this one, we really couldn’t see much. Then the landlord revealed the 26-foot ceilings and these amazing wood trusses -- they were covered by a drop ceiling -- and we knew right then that this was the spot.”
“Very casual,” is how Thoma describes the restaurant, which will also be called the Smack Shack. “It’s going to be a once-a-week kind of place, where you can drop in wearing short and flip-flops. We picture it as something you would see on the coast. The building has that look and feel. It’s brick, a single story, with a loading dock, it resembles something you would see on a wharf or a pier.”
That loading dock is going to become a 60-seat patio, leading into a 115-seat dining room with a pair of bars, one of which will offer ringside seats into a display prep kitchen (the space is being designed by ESG Architects of Minneapolis). Bartenders will also serve as oyster shuckers, a dual role that Thoma picked up during a recent New England culinary tour. “I don’t know that they’re very excited about that,” Thoma said with a laugh. “But if they know that going in, they can’t complain.”
Thoma describes the menu as "more coastal than strictly East Coast." Along with oysters and other chilled shellfish, the kitchen will focus on the Smack Shack’s signature lobster rolls (pictured, above), along with an expanded po’ boy selection, a move influenced by a recent research junket to New Orleans. “And fried chicken, which I’m really excited about,” said Thoma. The plan is to serve both lunch and dinner, with a late-June opening.
Just how good are those lobster rolls? Plenty good. It's a generous pile of sweet, juicy lobster, gently tossed with English cucumbers, a lemon-kissed aioli and tarragon, a glorious combination that's carefully stuffed inside toasted and liberally buttered milk bread. Truly, if there's a dish that can anchor a restaurant, it's this one. No wonder Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the nation's six best lobster rolls.
Fans of the 1029 Bar, the truck’s home base, will be relieved to learn that the Smack Shack will continue its partnership with the Northeast Minneapolis watering hole (on April 9, the bar and the truck will celebrate the Smack Shack’s profile on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” starting at 4 p.m.; the episode, which will be screened on televisions in an adjacent tent, airs at 9 p.m.). The truck isn’t going anywhere, either; it will also continue to roll onto Marquette Avenue, spreading its lobster roll love, after the restaurant opens.
Thoma said he’s definitely looking forward to one particular side benefit of operating a restaurant vs. a food truck, and that’s hiring a dishwasher. “I’ve become really good at it,” he said with a laugh. “But, wow, having someone else doing the dishes, that’s going to be great.”