May 18, 2008

Shuckin' Shack Review in the Wilmington Star

Wilmington Star News Article
By Liz Biro
One chilly winter night, Shuckin' Shack's doors are wide open, and inside the tiny Carolina Beach restaurant feels like a backyard oyster roast.

Galvanized buckets fashioned into lamps hang over the bar, its glass top sandwiching faded newspaper clippings that fuel conversations among the crowd. Hurricane Hazel's 1954 wrath. Hurricane Dennis. Hurricane Bonnie. A surfing lesson is positioned next to snapshots of sea dogs and their dudes. Remember the great white shark that washed up in the Intracoastal Waterway back in '98?

Huge photographs of docked charter boats at sunset replace windows, and nearby a sign reads, "It's always 5 o'clock in Carolina Beach." College basketball is on all four flat screens behind the bar.

This is March Madness coastal-Carolina-style, the rush to get the season's last local oysters. At Shuckin' Shack, the shellfish come from many places, but lately the most desirable are born in Onslow County's Stump Sound. The rich, briny big boys, raw or steamed, are accompanied by every sauce various oyster aficionados consider correct: vinegar, pure horseradish, hot butter, Tabasco, Texas Pete and ketchupy cocktail.

Patrons can shuck their bivalves or pay a few extra bucks to have the deft bartender do the work for them. Even on a busy Saturday evening, when he's dashing from kitchen to beer cooler to customer after customer, he voluntarily steps in on the task for some manicured ladies not sure what to do with their peck.

While they sip pinot and munch on Shuckin' Shack's fish and chips, crisp yet fragile batter coating the delicate filets, the barman sees to it that each gets her share of oysters.

When oyster season ends, the Shuckin' Shack party will continue. The restaurant also offers steamed clams; fat, sweet peel-and-eat shrimp optionally seasoned with Old Bay; and Low-Country-style boils with seafood and corn. Fried mushrooms, jumbo buffalo wings and crisp, slightly sweet hushpuppies satisfy landlubbers looking for snacks.

As the night goes on, paper towel rolls are passed down the bar, and oyster knives are exchanged for cocktails and bottled beers. The background rock 'n' roll becomes more apparent, stiff-shouldered surfers start circling, and it feels like this little community of seafood lovers releases one big contented sigh.

In this after-magic, many eyes are on an effervescent blond who barely notices the attention. After downing a half peck, she's lost in the memory of two rascally cousins who long ago forced her to eat her first "slimy" oyster. Just as she's telling how the moment unexpectedly transformed her from oyster hater to ardent fan, her eyes widen at the sound of Fleetwood Mac's I>Dreams./I> "That song was playing when they put that oyster in my mouth, " she says. "How weird is that?"

Cuisine: Seafood
Location: 6 N. Lake Park Blvd, , downtown Carolina Beach
Phone: 458-7380
Price range: $3 to $40
Payment: Visa and MasterCard
Sanitation grade: 96.5
Atmosphere: Casual and friendly. Food is served in paper-lined plastic baskets, steamers arrive in galvanized buckets and paper towel rolls provide napkins.
We say: The oysters are salty and the scene is cool at Shuckin' Shack.
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