Saltbox Seafood Joint, the shack that turned fried fish into an art form, will open its second Durham location Tuesday, Dec. 19. The new Saltbox will open in the former Shrimp Boats spot on Chapel Hill-Durham Boulevard.
Chef Ricky Moore opened Saltbox Seafood five years ago on Mangum Street, serving seasonal catches from coastal North Carolina. Channeling the Eastern North Carolina fish houses he knew growing up, Moore cooked from a shack just big enough for his kitchen and offered picnic tables as seating. Long lines and a wait proved to be little barrier to fresh fish, lightly fried and aggressively seasoned. Moore’s bare bones operation became known as one of the best seafood joints in the Triangle.
With the second location, Moore said he will offer the same focus on North Carolina seafood, but aim for an improved experience.
“People know the standard, they know what we do,” Moore said. “Mangum Street will always be the flagship, and I’ll make sure I never forget that.”
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Moore said the original location will go dormant and reopen in the spring. Its future will be as kind of a downtown express lunch, with a more limited menu aiming to cut down on the midday waits of downtown lunchers.
The second location was announced in February, and Moore eyed a quick turnaround, but renovations and permitting became more extensive.
The new Saltbox arrives as a holiday treat for fish lovers. The former Shrimp Boats building lends a good bit of character and charm, Moore said, plus a dining room of mostly wood and galvanized metal accents.
“Stylistically it’s in the spirit of the Down East fish house,” Moore said. “I think people will appreciate being indoors.”
The new 1,500-square-foot location will have seating for 50, all indoors, with plans to add outdoor seating when the weather warms back up in the spring. There won’t be a bar, but Moore said he’s pursuing an ABC permit to serve beer and wine. With more room at the new spot, Moore plans to get into more smoking and salting of fish, plus crab boils and oyster roasts. There will still be hush-honeys and fried potatoes, but more seasonal vegetable offerings and seafood pies.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s North Carolina seafood socials,” Moore said. “It’s definitely going to be a new experience coming here. We’ll try to do exactly what we’ve been doing, but keep expanding on it. We’ll showcase our local North Carolina seafood and the hardworking fishermen and fisherwomen out there.”
Moore said he’s proudest of raising the profile of some of North Carolina’s less popular catches, steering folks away from only flounder, shrimp and oysters, to mullet, bluefish and drum.
“I think we’ve been a great participant in bringing North Carolina seafood forward and showing that mullet is not a trash fish, not a lesser-than fish,” Moore said. “Historically, mullet was the filet mignon back in the day.”
The new Saltbox Seafood will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson