Seafood Shack offers maritime bounty with great canal views

Just so you know," one of several waitresses attending to us warned, "that comes with all the claws. Sometimes people get upset." She was referring to the soft-shell blue crab sandwich, one of a host of crunchy, deep-fried seafood delights we were to enjoy at Broad Ripple Seafood Shack. But we weren't concerned. We had already devoured a breaded alligator tail, and we were glad it tasted only slightly like chicken. The soft-shell crab sandwich ($9.95)

Such are the golden, batter-dipped joys of this canal-side Broad Ripple eatery. Remember the seafood restaurants of your youth? The ones that served tartar sauce from a pump, hush puppies and coleslaw? Well, thankfully, we've come a long way since then, understanding that fish can taste just fine, perhaps better, without a shroud of flour and a bath in hot oil. We've even come to enjoy it uncooked. Indeed, the Seafood Shack has not one but two "raw" bars, loaded with oysters and shrimp. But sometimes you just want a little crunch with your crustaceans. The Seafood Shack is happy to serve them up that way, too.

Housed in the old Bazbeaux Pizza location along Westfield, this "shack" is a pretty spiffy place, and canal views are some of the best in the neighborhood. But to see photos of the old restaurant, with its weather-worn deck and sagging roof, is to understand just how much effort the owners, longtime proprietors of several Broad Ripple watering holes, including Average Joe's, put into making this a respectable place to have a long lunch or enjoy a frozen sake cocktail and California roll after work.

While this place rides the fence between the deep-fried and day-boat-fresh philosophies of seafood eating, the décor nods more to the seaside eateries you may have visited on family vacations growing up. Captains' wheels, life-size sea creatures with their fins extended and small-scale models of schooners and other sea-faring vessels adorn the wall inside. But there's little of the gritty, pirate's hideaway atmosphere you might expect. Come summer, however, you'd be foolish not to eat outside, either along Westfield or the canal. Take a whiff of the clean Broad Ripple breeze, and you might just think you're lounging along the Chesapeake or Puget Sound.

Given how accommodating this place is to differing tastes, its diverse menu provided some consternation in ordering. While we wanted to try the catch of the day, we couldn't stop scanning the list of delicious-sounding sandwiches, like the po' boy or the smoked salmon BLT.

For appetizers, however, we easily settled on the alligator tail ($9.50), something only a couple of us at the table had ever tasted. Breaded but not overly so, the slightly chewy reptilian threads paired best with a tangy tartar sauce. We largely passed on a murky brown butter sauce with just a hint of heat.

A cup of "old-fashioned" seafood gumbo ($4.50) was quite thick and offered only a gentle kick, though this was chockfull of monk fish and Cajun sausage. Accompanying corn muffins, however, were warm and delicious with plenty of melting honey butter. They filled us up well for what turned out to be a rather long lunchtime wait for our entrées.

From a chalkboard of daily catches, we chose the blue marlin ($21) and asked for it blackened. The blackening spices gave only a bit of flavor to a slightly dry but meaty filet. A small list of sides could have been more imaginative for this somewhat upscale cut of seafood. Coleslaw was soupy and overly shredded, but fried okra was just right - with a light coating that kept the bits of this Southern favorite crisp, not mushy, as it too often is.

Salmon ($17), this time prepared with fresh herbs and olive oil, was quite moist in what seemed like a very light coating or breading. Herbs added freshness, though the filet was swimming in oil. A side of buttery button mushrooms were quite tasty, but hush puppies were the true star: crunchy, slightly sweet and with just a few whole kernels of corn. These were less likely to hush the pups than keep them yapping for more.

The soft-shell crab sandwich ($9.75) did indeed have all of the crunchy claws intact, making it something only a lover of breading could get into. But with the same tartar sauce and a big leaf of iceberg lettuce, this hearkened to those fish sandwiches of our youth - with just a hint of sophistication.

With such a big menu, a choice of only two desserts, neither house-made, was disappointing. A slice of key lime pie ($4.75) was more like cheesecake than pie, and chocolate sauce seemed odd though not completely inappropriate. While we weren't exactly lamenting the rather slow but friendly service, given the gorgeous views on a sunny July afternoon, we could imagine some area workers might need to get back to work a bit more expeditiously. Thankfully, we had the leisure to enjoy life along the shore as one should.

Broad Ripple Seafood Shack

832 E. Westfield Blvd.

253-7898

Hours

Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.

Friday-Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Food : 3.5 Stars

Atmosphere : 3.5 Stars

Service : 3 Stars

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