Smack Shack

First they said June, then July, then January. By the time Josh Thoma’s popular food truck, Smack Shack, launched its new North Loop eatery, anticipation had been building for nearly a year.

So was it worth the wait? For the space, undoubtedly. The cavernous 1910 brick warehouse has rustic timber frames, a soaring ceiling, and a narrow mezzanine with the best seats in the house.  

Curious diners gather around the double-decker lobster tank and 100-gallon kettle, where the main attraction turns into a meal. The cooks drop each live lobster into a mesh bag before plunging it into the boil, and crack open the claws of the cooked creatures with a mallet thwack. Between the checked-tablecloth-chic décor and the gambling wheel, I felt like I’d stepped into adult Disney World.   

The menu casts a wide net: whole lobsters, lobster rolls, and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, plus oysters, tile fish, and Boston clam “chowda.” For landlubbers, there are flank steaks, ribs, and fried chicken. Much of what I’ve sampled so far, from the lobster corn dogs to the blue crab po’ boy to the brownie sundae, reminded me of knockout picnic food: a flavor-packed bite of Americana. This is what you order on a Tuesday night, in your flip-flops and shorts, before a Twins game. When dining with clients or in-laws, go with one of the more delicate, nuanced dishes, such as the sea-bass ceviche or the cioppino, an Italian-American seafood stew with an herbaceous tomato broth.

In Maine, Lobster 101 isn’t necessary, but here in Minnesota, the whole creatures still strike fear in many diners’ hearts. On an early visit, when I asked for tips on disassembling my one-and-a-half-pounder, my server looked as distraught as if I had asked about my carburetor (for an extra $2, the cooks will separate the pieces in advance), before  kindly offering to fetch the chef.

Pat Weber, the onetime chef/owner of Mojito and now a restaurant consultant, offered encouraging praise for our work on the claws and the tail before showing us how to squeeze a few more bites of juicy, briny meat out of the spindly legs. “Like popping a zit?” Yes, Weber laughed, with warm reassurance.

603 Washington Ave. N., Mpls.