While the Lobster Shop restaurants are the big brothers – solid, cigar smoking guys with an impressive wine collection – Boathouse 19 is the fashionable little brother who looks as if he stepped out of a Hollister ad, all fresh-faced, with a cheeky sense of humor. The Narrows Marina restaurant opened July 2. It’s the project of Denny Driscoll, who has owned the waterfront Lobster Shop restaurants on Dash Point and Commencement Bay for three decades. The menu is designed by Tom Small, executive chef for the Lobster Shop restaurants, Boathouse 19 and Driscoll’s other restaurant in Gig Harbor, Tanglewood Grill.
I popped in anonymously during the first week of operation and was impressed with a restaurant that didn’t read like it was just a few days old. That’s the influence of a restaurant owner in business for longer than most of the servers have been alive. Servers at Boathouse 19 were noticeably younger, although most appear to be well-trained. Flubs were minor, even for a restaurant in opening week.
The atmosphere breathed casual. Lots of hard surfaces – wood floors and paneled ceilings – bounced the noise, so beware that conversation might be difficult with the din. A wrap-around deck offered quieter seating for about 75 and stunning views of the Narrows Bridges, the same view inside through tall windows.
The menu is just as Small promised when I spoke with him about it earlier this year: fun, regional American food teased with humor. Fries were served vertical in tin cans, desserts were baked in jars, pickles – fried or naked – peppered the appetizer list and showed up in cocktails, too. Prices were affordable, in the $9-$13 range.
Starters were modestly portioned with an equally modest price. A bay shrimp cocktail ($6) was punchy and sweet with a chunky cocktail sauce enlivened with jalapeño and served over butter lettuce – which also laid the foundation for a BLT salad ($6) crisscrossed with slices of smoky bacon and topped with grape tomatoes and blue cheese. A San Francisco cioppino ($4) did justice to its namesake; it was a peppery broth thick with briny treasures.
Sirloin steak ($18) came with ketchup, but not the kindergarten kind – this tasted smoky and bright. A companion mound of cheesy potatoes gratin sported a mustardy finish. Fish tacos ($11) were familiar – they were just as perfect as the twilight dinner tacos at the Commencement Bay Lobster Shop, only these were made with cod.
A build-your-own burger menu means you can go as sparse or fancy as you like using a list of 11 complimentary toppers and sauces and a $1-per-item a la carte menu of cheeses, bacon, chili, avocado and onion strings. Ours arrived as a vertical beast – topped with blue cheese, onion straws and thick, smoky bacon ($9 base, with $3 of upgrade ingredients). An oyster po’ boy sandwich ($14) on ciabatta popped with a zippy southern slaw; Cajun fries were dusted with heat and served with remoulade.
Desserts were smile-inducing. Lemon cheesecake in a jar ($5) was cutesy – an inverted cheesecake topped with lemon curd and graham cracker crumbles. The banana split ($7) was monstrous, decadent and completely impossible to finish.
Here’s good news for boaters: There’s moorage and a fueling station nearby. For those who arrive on wheels, there was ample parking in an adjacent marina lot with a short walk to the restaurant.
Coming tomorrow: With the addition of Boathouse 19 to his restaurant arsenal, I revisited both Lobster Shop restaurants at Dash Point and Commencement Bay. Read tomorrow how both restaurants fared.
Where: Tacoma Narrows Marina, 9001 S. 19th St., Tacoma; 253-565-1919, boathouse19restaurant.com
Serving: Lunch and dinner daily, same menu all day
Spirits: Listing 19 wines and beers (Northwest centered) and a specialty cocktail menu.
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune.