Being landlocked has its disadvantages — for one, going to the docks to pick out your pescatarian proteins is not an option.
Here in Kansas City, many local restaurants order fresh fish shipments daily, so our options for seafood have never been better. But in a pork and beef town, seafood tends to take on an upscale, serious vibe — and price tag — until now.
Sailor Jack’s Snack Shack, which opened this spring at 424 Westport Road, is a casual seafood eatery that delivers a whale-sized dose of flavor.
Sailor Jack’s, located in The Foundry’s former space, is owned by Beer KC, the operating group behind Westport favorites McCoy’s Public House, Beer Kitchen, and Char Bar.
Owners Mark Kelpe and James Westphal imbued the space with nautical nostalgia and kitsch in the form of wooden mermaids, scuba divers made from fire extinguishers, a few ships in bottles and the ubiquitous sailfish above the bar.
For a bit of scary fun, head to the restroom where a wall-sized photo from Jaws awaits. There’s humor here and lots to take in.
Devin Campbell, executive chef at Sailor Jack’s, is no stranger to the Beer KC family. He was the head chef at The Foundry several years ago before leaving to hone his skills at The American Restaurant and Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room. Now, he’s back and is enjoying breaking down the daily catch the way he used to break down Berkshire pork.
Campbell’s menu has something for seafood lovers, landlubbers, and even vegans. The menu takes a definite East Coast bent and features lobster rolls, Low Country shrimp boils, and fish and chips alongside a full list of salads, sandwiches and even Old Bay-spiced fried chicken.
Sailor Jack’s receives fresh fish shipments at least every other day, so Campbell has a beautiful variety with which to work. The chef changes his recipes with the seasons. This fall, roasted squash purée will accompany his Alaskan salmon. Other signature menu items like the fish and chips and Low Country shrimp boil will remain the same.
On our first visit to Sailor Jack’s, I had to try a lobster roll. Sailor Jack’s offers two variations: classic Maine served cold with creamy lemon-chive mayo, and a warm version dressed in champagne brown butter sauce.
The restaurant also serves a Gulf-style shrimp roll and a hearts of palm roll for the vegetarian set. The latter can be made vegan with a bread substitution.
I opted for the warm lobster roll which was rich with buttery goodness, all the better because the brown butter sauce was soaked up by the toasted traditional split roll. I ordered the Old Bay spuds with Manchego fondue instead of the assigned shack “frites,” or fries. The spuds, deep-fried chunks of potato, were exceedingly crispy, which worked in counterpoint to the soft texture of the sandwich, but if you like more heft to your fries, go with the frites, which are seasoned wedges accompanied by the aptly named yum yum sauce (a spiced aioli).
My companion tried the Crabby Grilled Cheese off of the “Sand-wiches” menu. With Muenster and Tillamook cheddar melted lusciously on Pecorino Romano sourdough, the chew of the sandwich was just right. Unfortunately, the Calabrian chile sauce that was slathered on overwhelmed the crab that topped the cheese. With about half the spice, the crabby grilled cheese would have been a hit.
Later, we went back with friends to try the platter to end all platters, appropriately named “Release the Kraken.” This $62 feast, which feeds three or four people, is a combo of several other dishes on the menu — the Low Country shrimp boil, battered cod, the daily catch, fried clams, coastal slaw, spicy corn on the cob, shack frites, and dipping sauces.
One of the standouts on the Release the Kraken platter was the battered cod. While cod is the fish of choice on most fish and chips plates, frequently, the coating gets most of the attention in the kitchen. Not so here. Campbell and crew start with fresh cod and brine it in salt water, forcing salinity into the flesh. The batter is closer to Japanese tempura than an American or British beer batter, complete with Korean chile flakes and parsley. The resulting filet is moist, flavorful and oh, so crispy.
I enjoyed the shrimp boil as well. Fat, sweet shell-on shrimp swam in a buttery sauce along with andouille sausage, red potatoes, and sweet corn. With plenty of crispy ciabatta bread for dunking in that flavorful cooking liquid, it was the highlight of the platter.
So what do you drink with a gigantic seafood platter? At Sailor Jack’s, which is connected to McCoy’s Public House, you have a choice of an expectedly wide selection of beer, a small but diverse wine list, and a high/low cocktail selection.
Beer KC beverage director Randyl Danner has made a move that will be heralded by those of us fatigued by cocktails that exceed appetizer prices—a menu of three cocktails that are $5 all day, every day.
Yes, you read that right: $5! All day! And no, these $5 cocktails aren’t your standard spirit-and-mixer specials. The Passion Fruit Mojito is flavorful and boozy, and the Frozen Sangria Slushie is the perfect cocktail for a fiscally responsible sweet tooth.
Those who want a bit more complexity might choose one of the nautically named signature cocktails, like Any Port In The Storm, a mix of Plantation original dark rum, ruby port, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, and lime. For groups, there are shareable drinks such as the Pina Punch or Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, meant to serve two to three people, or one very thirsty sailor.
Desserts are low-key at Sailor Jack’s, with two options at any given time. When I went the menu featured Panna-Cobbler, a lemon-vanilla panna cotta with fresh berry compote and brioche streusel, and a Chocolate Peanut Butter Sundae that would sate any chocoholic.
The bottom line: Sailor Jack’s proves that seafood doesn’t have to be intimidating, even this far from the shore.