Great Escapes

04.20.14

Become a Fried Seafood Believer at South Beach Market

Like Forrest Gump, South Beach Market prepares their fresh seafood in just about every way possible. But most importantly, eating there will change your mind about fried seafood forever.

If you are dubious about fried seafood—and who isn’t?—we recommend a visit to South Beach Market on the Oregon coast where the Yaquina River flows into Yaquina Bay. Here is irrefutable evidence that fresh seafood, fried right, can be among Earth’s most scrumptious foodstuffs. Jumbo wild prawns, which really are jumbo, are nothing short of magnificent, offering two levels of crunch: first, the crackle of the garlic-infused tempura-batter crust that surrounds them, and then the dense snap of the pink meat itself. The same great crust can be tasted enveloping cod, salmon, tuna, oysters, calamari, halibut, little baby popcorn shrimp, and clam strips.

As for the chips half of the “fish and chips” dish, the French fries are perfectly decent crinkle-cuts, but we highly recommend paying extra for onion rings. They come as a variegated tangle that includes perfect, evenly battered hoops, frail squiggles of batter that are slightly onion-flavored, and little lengths of limp onion to which only a dab of batter clings. Poking through this crunchy-sweet vegetable mound is edible ecstasy.

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Michael Stern

Still not sold on fried seafood? The menu, posted on the wall above the order counter, offers countless alternatives, including eye-opening oyster shooters dabbed with roaring-hot cocktail sauce and some of the most delicious Dungeness crab you’ll ever eat. The crabs are delivered straight from the boat and are cooked in cauldrons by the highway out front, their salty-sweet aroma perfuming the parking lot. You can buy them whole to take home and crack yourself or order an impeccable Pacific seafood cocktail that is simplicity itself: chunks of cooled meat piled into a cup with no adornment other than a wedge of lemon (and, if you wish, horseradish-hot sauce). When it comes to Dungeness crab, plain is perfect, but culinary adventurers should also try a house-made Dungeness crab burger. It is a good-sized quarter pounder of pearly meat spiced and rolled in Japanese breadcrumbs, then pan-fried to a crisp. Pass the tartar sauce, please! (Salmon burgers and shrimp burgers are available, too, but they are no match for the crab.)

One generally would not think of coming to a fresh seafood market on the ocean's coast to eat a tuna salad sandwich, but South Beach is a notable exception to that rule. The tuna salad is made with albacore tuna that is cooked in the can without any added oil or water, a process that supersaturates the meat with its own flavor, exponentially increasing its creamy luxury. The sandwich is made with thick tiles of quality bread and adorned with lettuce and tomato.

Another essential category on the South Beach menu is smoked seafood. Salmon, tuna, sturgeon, mussels, oysters, and sable are marinated and smoked using hickory and alder wood. Wild Chinook king salmon, hook-and-line-caught by boats out of Newport, just across the bay, is made into “candy” by glazing nuggets of smoked pink meat with pepper and brown sugar. Each firm, moist piece packs a provocative sweet and savory punch. If you catch your own fish, bring them to the South Beach Market and, for a few dollars, have them custom-smoked.

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Michael Stern

The place itself is an experience, as honky tonk as can be, surrounded by blaring signs selling lottery tickets, 50 different microbrews, steamers with garlic butter, “LIVE! crab,” and “FRESH! fish and chips.” The building is festooned with cartoon-like images of fish, including dorsal fins that poke out of the roof. The restaurant part of the operation, which locals refer to as The Crab Shack, is extremely casual–tote your meal from counter to bare table (indoors or out), and bus your place when you are finished. The restaurant may be no-frills, but the seafood market boasts a four-star inventory that includes beautiful pieces of locally caught ling cod, sea bass, yellowtail rockfish, petrale sole, halibut, salmon, and more (much of which is available by mail order, shipped overnight).

As for the chips half of the “fish and chips” dish, the French fries are perfectly decent crinkle-cuts, but we highly recommend paying extra for onion rings. They come as a variegated tangle that includes perfect, evenly battered hoops, frail squiggles of batter that are slightly onion-flavored, and little lengths of limp onion to which only a dab of batter clings. Poking through this crunchy-sweet vegetable mound is edible ecstasy.

As road trippers always in search of cultural gout de terroir, we love that the South Beach Market, formerly named the Lighthouse Deli, also serves as a 24/7 convenience store. Here you will find an inventory of such problematic foods as cheese dogs made using weenies that are kept warm on rolling dowels for who-knows-how-long, sports-stadium nacho trays, viscous chili from a crock pot, and an immense inventory of energy drinks. You also can purchase bait for fishing, jerky sticks of every stripe, and a souvenir T-shirt that lets the world know, “The 2nd Amendment is my Gun Permit.” Incongruously, the sound system in the restaurant serenades diners with classical music.

While the convenience store is open around-the-clock, the restaurant is not. It serves fish and chips and Dungeness crab only 12 hours a day, from eight to eight.

++South Beach Seafood++ [www.southbeachfishmarket.com]: 3640 S Coast Hwy, South Beach, OR. 541-867-6800.