A weekend or two ago, I was passing through D.C. and, as is my new custom, took the opportunity to catch up with a friend over lunch. Strolling through the chi-chi streets of Georgetown, you’d hardly expect to come upon a New England-style lobster shack, but there, a few doors down from Coach and Tommy Hilfiger, that’s exactly what you’ll find.
Tackle Box was my friend’s recommendation, and, given that the menu is full of beach-vacation favorites, all sustainably sourced and reasonably priced, it was an easy sell.
We parked in the bowels of a nearby shopping mall, and as we walked past stores hawking shoes and high-end workout gear, I started to fear that we’d been led astray. Those doubts were fleeting, though: Patrick’s taste hasn’t let me down yet. What little confidence I’d lost was quickly restored as soon as I saw the decidedly down-market exterior, sparsely decorated dining room, and handwritten chalkboard menu.
In keeping with the beach-shack aesthetic, seating is composed of several rows of picnic tables, with a counter and stools offering extra perches along the perimeter. We’d just missed the lunch rush, but a steady stream of customers—families on holiday, tie-and-dress-shirt–sporting office workers, couples on lunch dates—kept things buzzing.
We gawked at the board, overwhelmed by the wealth of potential combinations. I instantly wanted oysters, both fried and raw, but since two of our party of four weren’t interested, I begrudgingly agreed to forsake my beloved bivalves. In hindsight, that decision proved to be wise—the portions were so large that even without appetizers, I couldn’t finish my lunch.
I finally settled on one of the Maine meals, choosing grilled squid as my fish, fried green tomatoes and grilled asparagus as my sides, and lemon-garlic aioli and pesto as my sauces. (Dipping sauces are a serious weakness of mine; I had to hold back from requesting one of each on offer.) The squid was tender and obviously very fresh; the mini-forest of asparagus—half a bunch, at least—was crisp-tender, though I would’ve been happy with a little more char. My very first exposure to that Southern staple, the fried green tomato, left me with a curious craving for another Southern favorite, the fried pickle. The tomatoes were fine, but I was subconsciously expecting that pickle-y tang and couldn’t help feeling ever-so-slightly disappointed.
My mom went with the crab cake sandwich special and a side of sweet-potato fries. I had a small taste of the patty—lots of crab, very little filler—but couldn’t keep my hands off the fries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a batch so-called sweet-potato fries that are distinguishable from the regular variety by color alone, but not these. They actually tasted like sweet potatoes, and when dunked in that aioli, they were nearly irresistible.
As I knew she would, my sister selected the lobster roll and graciously let me sample the goods. Minimal complaints here: The roll itself could’ve used a more thorough toasting and a less subtle hand with the butter, and though the filling was very lightly dressed, without any crunchy bits (celery, onion, scallion) to detract from the good stuff, it still wasn’t quite as good as my gold standard. (I’m not sure who supplies that restaurant’s crustaceans, but they provide the sweetest meat out there.) But as I said, these are nit-picky objections; I’d order one for myself in a heartbeat, especially given the accompaniment: house-cut fries that were even better than the sweet-potato ones.
Patrick also ordered a Maine meal, selecting a combination of grilled catfish, portobello mushroom, and fried green tomatoes. Somehow, he emptied his basket without my fork intruding, but managed to report between bites that it was all to his liking. Given the speed with which the food disappeared, I’d have to say that he was telling the truth.
At this point, we neared a food coma, but my sister and I had spotted key lime pie on the menu, and that’s one of those things you can’t un-see. Friends, let me tell you: This was the very best key lime pie I’ve ever had. Served still warm from its time in the oven, thus more custard-with-crust than pie, we couldn’t help but devour it. And hours later, I was still thinking about it. The rest of the meal, too, but primarily that pie.
Some restaurants with lofty ideals fail in their execution, but not this one: Tackle Box unequivocally proves that fresh, sustainable food is not only better for the planet, but tastes better, too. Which, let’s be honest, is just another way of saying that I’ll be going back to try the oysters next time I’m in town.
3245 M Street NW