Shuckin’ Shack (downtown location)
109 Market St. • (910) 833-8622
Bottom Line: I highly recommend all the shuckin’ food for a taste at what they do best!
The Shuckin’ Shack lives up to its name. There’s no shortage of shuckin’ going on. The humid air carries hints of beer and the briny deep. Small bits of shellfish fly all around as diners gorge on the pieces of sweet and succulent meat hidden beneath an armor of various crustaceans. There are things to love and things to love less about The Shuckin’ Shack. After three visits, I’m not sure which wins.
I’ve always thought of Wilmington as a few small towns linked by a few major thoroughfares, sharing little in common with one another. The downtown food scene isn’t really replicated by their beach counterparts—or vice versa. That’s what makes The Shuckin’ Shack such a welcome addition to Market Street. The only things missing are the sea breeze and sand on the floor. Everything else about it screams beach.
The place itself is déclassé fun. A chalkboard touts the origins of each species of seafood for the day. The bar and tables are adorned with news clippings from many decades past, proclaiming bits of news from earlier generations of beach-going (hurricanes feature prominently). My favorite touch: The menus are printed on cardboard taken from beer cases. I never did get an accurate count, but my unscientific research suggests that Bud Light is outpacing Miller Lite in the cardboard menu department. I think I saw one Stella Artois, but that was an outlier.
The service is fun and friendly. The atmosphere is casual and pleasant. The room fills with pleasant chatter, and nobody gets upset when a few errant drops of seafood-scented water spray the person at the next table, because that’s what happens when opening shellfish.
Shuckin’ Shack is known for their oysters. I will tell readers outright: I skipped them. My devotion to not eating them out of season borders on superstition. While I’m sure Shuckin’ Shack serves perfectly safe seafood, I don’t want my bias against summer oysters to taint my opinion of the restaurant as a whole. So, I’ll be back in the fall for a fairer attempt at them.
I opened with crab claws. Expertly cracked prior to serving, the claws gave up the sweet meat inside with little effort on my part. Though not seasoned in any noticeable way, they didn’t need help beyond drawn butter. I will say the restaurant provides more than one person can eat—more precisely, they’re more than one person can eat before they go cold.
The snow crab legs share a similar story. While there is nothing special in their preparation—hot water does all the work—they’re meaty and sweet, and I loved them. The legs stood on their own (no pun intended, seriously) better than the claws did. I ate at least one whole cluster without benefit of butter and can’t say I missed anything. Anyone looking for a seafood treat with a fraction of the fat should look to this more flavorful offering.
I found the lobster roll more of a mixed bag. The lobster salad itself tasted bitingly cold, which brought out a very crisp flavor in the meat. Also, it tasted richer and heartier somehow than other lobster rolls I’ve tried. The mayonnaise, used with remarkable restraint, added just the right touch of egg and oil to pair with the lobster. The downfall wasn’t in flavor but prep, as the lobster hadn’t been drained well-enough, so parts of the soft bun soaked through, making the sandwich far too soggy. Texture can ruin a meal as much as flavor.
The crab sliders, too, disappointed. The heavy breading tasted little more than crab-scented carbs. For a moment, I thought I might have gotten a hushpuppy sandwich. To be honestly fair, their hushpuppies are pretty good. For folks who prefer heavy breading in crab cakes (and I know some are out there), this is a go.
The fish and chips were a bust. While crispy enough, the fish didn’t hold a a hint of pepper or any seasoning in the breading. Frying imparts flavor just by virtue of the oil, but the uniform tan on the fillets still needed something to kick the flavor up a notch. Otherwise, it tasted bland. The chips, too, tasted more like a pedestrian effort at French fries. It’s not that they were bad, just not praiseworthy either.
All in all, though, I like Shuckin’ Shack—I really do. It’s a happy eatery serving good non-Kosher seafood. I highly recommend enjoying what they do best: shellfish. I certainly can’t wait to try the peel ‘n’ eat shrimp next.