Urban Fishing

Sea Salt, the new-ish restaurant in the Minnehaha Park Pavilion, serves fresh fish, unbelievably priced

What, wine and beer is not enough to distract you from thoughts of that herring? Me neither. Fortunately, there are lots of other daily specials to content a committed pescatarian. For example, one day's special of soft-shell crab, another's of whole Dungeness crab ($22.95), and, every day, oysters so fresh you can watch them shucked in front of your eyes. I tried some briny beauties from Hog Island in northern California, and huge, chilly, silky, cucumber-and-mineral delights from the Nootka Sound in British Columbia. (Oysters at Sea Salt generally cost $2 each, $11 a half-dozen, or $20 a dozen.)

One of my first restaurant jobs had me spending 80-hour weeks over a utility sink shucking oysters and bearding mussels—an experience that left me both with a fierce scorn for people who smash oysters as they open them, and an unshakeable commitment to never opening another oyster with my own soft mitts. So I'm very, very picky about the way the rocklike, delicate things are opened, and it was an absolute joy to witness the gentle folks behind the counter whip through them in exactly the right way: swiftly, but unhurriedly. I know it takes a lot of mangled oysters to achieve that sort of proficiency, I just don't want those oysters to be mine. I want Sea Salt's oysters to be mine.

So, how do they do it? In addition to being fish obsessives, it turns out that Weglinski and Blood are also fish insiders. Insiders at Coastal Seafoods, the Cities' most prominent retail and wholesale fish company. John Blood worked at Coastal for 11 years as the retail manager, and Chris Weglinski was there for six years as wholesale manager. So now? Now they're in like the proverbial Flynn.

If the fish were any fresher it would still have a Rapala in its mouth: John Blood (left) and Chris Weglinski
Bill Kelley
If the fish were any fresher it would still have a Rapala in its mouth: John Blood (left) and Chris Weglinski

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Sea Salt Eatery

4825 Minnehaha Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55417

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Nokomis

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"We get the pick of the litter," Weglinski told me. "They let us go in there and whatever is just coming out of the box [from the airplane] we can get. One day it was smelt, so we had smelt. Most [restaurants] are just kind of at the mercy of the distributor, who's going to send the old stuff out the door first. But [Coastal] lets us take the new stuff because we go up there and pack it and ice it ourselves. If they have the choice between packing the order and letting us do the work, they'll let us do it. So we do. Usually I go in and shuck a few oysters to see how they shuck, and if they break in my hands I don't buy them.

"We originally wanted to be like Al's diner, but with oysters; just beer, wine, raw oysters, and maybe a chowder. But we just couldn't pass up the [fish], so here we are. On a Friday night it's a zoo—you can come in and see the terror on the cooks' faces. We always get four or five people who get pissed off that the wait is so long. I call it the cheese curd booth at the State Fair."

How's that? Yes, as sure as catfish have teeth, Sea Salt has one big drawback: You can't get in there. Or at least not on a beautiful weekend during dinnertime. Lines, bulked up by double-strollers, snake out the door from 6:00 on most weekends, and waits for food can top an hour. If you want a pleasant experience, dine Monday through Thursday, or before 5:00 p.m., advises Weglinski.

Or, you can do what I did. Remember that Friday early-evening freak thunderstorm a few weeks ago, the one with the hurricane-like gales of water and quarter-sized hail? Well, once it blew through the city, once the sun had returned, the neighbor's dog had been restored to his yard, and the windows were judged to have withstood the assault, my date and I looked at each other, and.... Within minutes, with the mere expenditure of a few extra napkins for wiping off the chairs, we had a park table all to ourselves, a nice cool drink, and fresh fish on the grill. As I sat, the adjoining tables filled up with like-minded folks, all gleeful over our prizes, so easily procured. I considered my good luck. Here I was, an urban type who wouldn't know a crappie from a sunny if one splashed out of my Champagne, engaged in the happiest form of urban fishing: The kind where you are guaranteed a successful catch.

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