I believe I've mentioned before how much I love DC chef Barton Seaver's upscale sustainable seafood restaurant Hook. Despite my great love, however, I have only been there twice. Why? Well, when I say upscale I mean expensive and I don't quite have the budget to match. So you can only imagine how excited I was to hear that Seaver's new project, what he describes as "a New England lobster shack in the heart of DC", had opened. Named Tackle Box, this little picnic bench and paper napkin restaurant is located right next door to its more pretentious sibling on M. Street in Georgetown, one of DC's most expensive neighborhoods.
Unlike Hook, however, I can actually afford to eat at this place more than once a year. In fact, for 13 dollars I can get a main course of sustainable, fresh seafood, two sides and a house-made sauce to dip it all in. Walking in the door on a sweltering day this past weekend, the first thing that caught my eye was the big blackboard on the far right wall, listing appetizers (from 6 to 12 dollars depending on what you get), the 13 dollar "Maine Meal" offers, sides, extras and sauces. I like how the "maine meal" offerings are divided by style of preparation: you can order seafood that is either "crispy" (deep fried) or "wood-grilled". Between the appetizers and the "maine" meal, scallops, shrimp, clams, oysters, bluefish, catfish, tilapia, calamari and rainbow trout are all represented. The clean concrete floors and walls give the place a stripped down feel that is only increased when one goes to the counter to order and pay. This is definitely not Hook, with its luxurious chairs and well-dressed waiters. That's not a bad thing though. Sitting at a picnic bench sucking down some water from the pitchers sitting on a side table, I enjoy the relaxed ambiance and the fact that the air conditioning isn't blasting at a frigid 60 degrees like so many other restaurants in the summer. For once I don't have to pull out a sweater.
And I enjoy the food. The meal comes out quickly, my number called only a few minutes after I am seated, but at the first bite it is clear that this is no fast food joint, despite the tray and disposable utensils (which according to Metrocurean are made of biodegradable materials, and certainly are more sturdy than plastic-ware). My fried oysters are fantastic. Not greasy at all, with a bit of spiciness to the crisp breading, plump and juicy and with a clean oyster flavour. My boyfriend got the burger, which seemed like a cop-out until I had a bite. Top quality meat went into that meat patty, and the results were something that you could never find at McDonalds. His New England clam chowder was equally flavourful if not as thick as the type at Legal Seafoods.
As for the sides, my mizuna greens salad with pesto dressing was tasty, but the wood-grilled asparagus were outstanding. A slight smokey flavour permeated them and dipped into the garlic-lemon aioli (the same sauce that you can find next door at Hook), they were a meal in themselves. Because my boyfriend didn't want a sauce to go with his burger, I got two to try out my oysters with: the aioli and a yummy tarter sauce. Both were lovely although my food was so good that frankly they were just icing on the cake.
While researching the Tackle Box before my first trip I found a number of comments on Chowhound complaining about the size of the servings. I know that serving size is a relative thing, but I can say without a doubt that I was very full when I walked out the door. One dozen deep fried oysters, to my mind, is a pretty large amount of seafood especially when it comes with a heaping pile of mizuna and at least 4 fat spears of asparagus.
Would I go back to Tackle Box? Hell yes, and indeed I plan on it. Its great to know that there is a seafood place just a walk away where I can eat sustainably without breaking the bank. Next time I'm going to try out the house-made lemonade, and maybe see if I can plow through a half-pound of sustainably sourced peel-and-eat shrimp.