We're going to be covering Coral Springs a bit more, so I wanted to try one of the more unique places rather than a well-entrenched chain. Salt Life may be a chain someday, but for now they just have locations in Jacksonville and Coral Springs; CS being a curious choice as you really don't think about the seaside lifestyle when you think about Coral Springs.
The place looks pretty cool from the outside; a wonky building with 0 people on the patio on a 93 degree afternoon. The outdoor patio with a view of the parking lot isn't quite the same as having the place on the water in Key West.
As I got to the door, it's clear that the wood is faux weathered; a paint job that just seems contrived. Remember that word.jump-->
As I got to the hostess, I scoped the place out and realized that it wasn't the "sports bar" that I had anticipated. The bar didn't seem like somewhere I'd want to hang out, so I opted for a high top in the bar area.
Salt Life Food Shack Bar
The restaurant itself is one big room with the bar and "dining room" separated by a big aquarium. Frankly, I didn't care for the decor. Turquoise isn't my favorite color, and it seems that you could capture a weathered look without using decor from the mid-70s. The bar has 2 big TVs, one of which was on the Shark Channel. There are a few other TVs throughout the restaurant; but this isn't a place you'd come to watch all of the games on NFL Sunday.
Salt LIfe Food Shack Interior
The tables have buckets just for show that contain roll-ups, standard condiments and some sort of bottle sauce that I couldn't find anything about in Google. >
Salt LIfe Iced Tea and Table Setup
I'd checked out the menu before I came and I had a lot of trouble finding something I wanted. Many of the descriptions sound awful: A lobster roll with cream cheese and carrots; "tropical rice", and a lot of mystery sauces like "signature" salsa verde and "shack sauce". I'm low carbing it, so I tried to find a couple of items that were on the safe side. I ordered 5 "blackened" wings and the grilled oysters.
Music is the highlight of the place, with Third Eyed Blind followed by Counting Crows, Bob Seger and Van Morrison. High Tops are serviced by the bartender, which can often be a problem during happy hour, but the girl they had was not only a cutie; but adept at her profession.
I think she noticed my expression as she delivered the wings.
Salt Life Food Shack
Blackened, they are not. She offered to return them to have them spiced up, but I had no confidence that they'd do more than sprinkle them with some cajun seasoning and dip them in oil; which is not how you blacken wings. So I settled for fried wings. I'd finished 4 of them when the oysters were brought out by a runner.
Salt Life Food Shack Grilled Oysters
One thing that I didn't anticipate with the oysters was that if you don't eat them quickly, the cheese hardens and changes everything. You figure that melted cheese and garlic butter has to be good, but these sort of tasted like parmesan balls. When you overheat parmesan, it becomes rubbery; by the time I got to the fourth oyster the cheese was hard and I could barely dig it out of the shell.
Salt Life Grilled Oysters Close Up
Cheese on oysters seems totally unnecessary to me; it seems that just grilling the oysters and spooning some herbed butter on them would be delectable enough; without the prospect of burning the cheese or having it harden before you eat it. But no matter what the dish, the accompaniments shouldn't bury the main event; I couldn't taste the oysters at all, so the dish was a failure. The bread was also just toasted french bread, and there wasn't much to dip it into.
My impression of Salt Life Food Shack is that it's a contrived concept; often restaurants become chains because of the success of the original restaurant; some combination of recipes and atmosphere that gain popularity and popular demand creates organic expansion. TGI Friday's is a good example; they started as a unique concept on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that quickly became the hottest spot in the area, so other locations were opened. But Salt Life seems forced; from the decor to the recipes on the menu; as if someone decided on a concept and then built a restaurant around it, which I'm pretty sure is what we have here.
One thing that's great about the old time "seaside shacks" was the authenticity and simplicity of the food; fresh, right off the boat seafood and simple preparation over an open flame; with stuff just thrown in a basket without concern for the presentation. A place with babes in bikinis wandering in from the beach. I find it difficult to catch that vibe in a chain restaurant in a strip mall shopping center 12 miles from the ocean.