I've followed many a Salt Life bumper sticker on I-95, but until Salt Life Food Shack came along, I never knew much more about this two-word idiom.
Salt Life — an homage to Florida fishing, surfing and swimming — is a lifestyle brand with more than $6 million in annual sales. What started 10 years ago on the beach in Jacksonville now encompasses everything from bathing suits to beer koozies.
The company also operates a lively, moderately priced seafood restaurant in Coral Springs. What's not to like about a restaurant where entrees average about $15 and a soup or salad can be added for $2.99? Sandwiches can be had for less than $10.
The 205-seat restaurant sits inside what was once a Longhorn Steakhouse. The brick walls and the ceiling are painted beachy white. The floors are hardwood. Turquoise pops up in the upholstery and glass tiles on the wall above the bar. A big, glowing aquarium divides the bar from the dining room. This is a seafood restaurant without the usual marine kitsch.
The menu's nightly specials include $7 for a dozen oysters on Thursdays. We couldn't resist the grilled, garlic-Parm oysters ($9.49 per half dozen), char-grilled in garlic-butter sauce and topped with Parmesan. They are heated, but not so much that the oysters lose their character. You'll find yourself dipping bread into the butter left in the shells.
Jose's guacamole ($7.99), served with chips, is creamy and salty, the way I like it. Chicken wings ($5.39 for five, $9.99 for 10) can be ordered blackened and Buffalo or Hawaiian style. They are smoked before being tossed in a sweet sauce. The Buffalo wings tasted just fine with a Pitch Black IPA draft ($6) from Widmer Brothers Brewing Company. The beer list is impressive.
I went for the Caribbean Shack Fish ($17.99), grouper or mahi, glazed with teriyaki, lightly blackened and served over very good fried rice with vegetable chutney. You can't go wrong with this dish. I had the grouper.
Sandwiches are served without accompaniment, so you'll want a side of tropical fried rice ($2.99) or grilled corn topped with cilantro and lime ($1.99). French fries ($1.99) and grilled vegetables ($3.99) are also offered.
Soft-shell crab BLT ($9.49) is just as it sounds, with applewood bacon on ciabatta bread. This is one sandwich that needs to be served immediately, because by the time we got it, the crab had lost much of its crunch. The tuna burger ($10.49) gets good flavor from wasabi cream and an Asian-inspired sweet sauce. It's topped with avocado fries, which are just as good as they sound and a perfect foil for the soft tuna. Tropical Yardbird ($7.99) is a wood-grilled chicken-breast sandwich with grilled pineapple, provolone, maple-soy glaze and honey mustard. Another winner.
Desserts ($5.99) include a not-tart-enough Key lime bar and a very homey Captain's rum cake served with vanilla ice cream.
Salt Life Food Shack celebrated its first anniversary in April. The original location has been doing seafood in Jacksonville for three years. With the company planning to open restaurants next year in Stuart and St. Augustine, I have a feeling I'll be seeing many more Salt Life bumper stickers.
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.
2660 N. University Drive, the Walk of Coral Springs
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Call one hour ahead. Reservations only for parties of eight or more.
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot