Cary, NC — I visited Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, a brand new Cary restaurant, to meet the owner and check out the menu. While I was there, I ended up getting a crash-course in oysters and got to try crab balls, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar
Owner Brad Barbour opened the Triangle’s first Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar in Preston Corners (at High House and Cary Parkway) three weeks ago. Brad and his wife, Meredith, had discovered the original Shuckin’ Shack years before during a Carolina Beach vacation.
“I graduated from UNCW, so we’d go back to the Wilmington area on the weekends, and we just fell in love with the restaurant,” he told me. “It’s about 900 square feet, and the place stays packed out all year long – not just in tourist season. The food there is good and simple and the people are friendly – it’s a laid-back place where you want to spend time.”
Brad and Meredith got to know the owners and learned that they wanted to expand Shuckin’ Shack outside of the Wilmington area. “We loved this place so much that we’d kick ourselves if someone else opened one around the corner from our house,” Brad told me. “So we signed the lease here in January 2015, and now, one year later, we’re open.”
The new Shuckin’ Shack sits in the space that, years ago, held a Caribou Coffee. “We kept a few of the original details, like the unique-looking sockets in the ceiling and some of the flooring,” Brad told me. Other than that, the space has a completely different look.
The cozy restaurant is bright and family-friendly – it’s a place for a quick lunch or a family dinner as well as a spot to hang out at the bar with friends and watch a football game.
Brad decorated Shuckin’ Shack with meaningful memorabilia that represents the history of Cary and the restaurant. “To pay tribute to the original Shuckin’ Shack, we built the foot rails on the bar from wood we salvaged from the boardwalk at Carolina Beach,” he told me. “The Town helped me pick out some old pictures of Cary to display on the bar and on the walls.”
What’s on the Menu?
As soon as I sat down at the bar for our interview, Brad placed a plate of crab balls – one of his most popular appetizers – in front of me. The crab balls are made from the restaurant’s crab cakes, which are rolled up with breading, deep-fried and served with a mayonnaise and hot sauce-based dip that Brad whips up in the kitchen every morning.
“A lot of folks use breading to hold their crab cakes together, and there’s not a lot of actual crab in there,” Brad told me. “Instead of doing that, we crush up crackers and use them to bind the crab meat together, and that makes our crab cakes better than others.”
Other best-sellers are the lobster rolls and blackened mahi tacos. “And, since we’re an oyster bar, we obviously have to have the best of the best oysters,” Brad laughed.
He explained to me that the oysters, freshly-caught shrimp and other seafood he serves come from different suppliers based on the time of year it is. All the seafood at Shuckin’ Shack is wild-caught in America, and as much as possible comes from North Carolina. “It’s seasonal – it’s all based on weather and working conditions,” he told me.
“The most important thing is to make sure it’s all wild-caught and fresh – that’s the key,” he added. “When you start bringing in stuff from overseas, it’s been sitting for a long time. It’s cheaper, but it’s not the same quality. I think the best way to eat our NC oysters are raw, but we can also steam them and pair them with our many in-house sauces.
A popular item and crowd-pleaser for the folks who aren’t really oyster fans is our char-grilled oysters flavored with either jalapeno cheddar and bacon or parmesan, garlic and bacon.
For those of you who want to try a little of everything, there’s always a special going on at Shuckin’ Shack. “Our chicken wings are on special every day from 4-6 pm, and we always have some sort of sandwich lunch special,” Brad said. “Crab legs are $14 a pound every Thursday, Fridays are dedicated to lobster and we also have Taco Tuesdays.”
You’ll always find salads, chicken fingers and other non-seafood items on the menu, too.
Don’t Forget the Drinks
“I’m a beer nut, so we have a fairly fancy beer system here,” Brad joked. “We have 40 some craft bottles and cans and a list of different wines.” He also told me about the scratch-made cocktails, which all contain fresh ingredients. I want to try the margarita, which is made with Shuckin’ Shack’s homemade sour mix – lemons, oranges and limes muddled up with simple syrup. Brad recommends the peach sangrias and Bloody Marys, too.
Shuckin’ Shack already has a group of local fans. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of customers who come in because they know about the other Shuckin’ Shack,” Brad told me. “I thought it was just my friends in the area who loved it as much as I did.”
As the restaurant grows, Brad will plan some fun events. You’ll hear news of a grand opening in about two weeks (stay tuned), and plans are also in place for a November Oysterfest and an oyster-shucking contest. Readers can like Shuckin’ Shack on Facebook and keep reading Food Cary to stay up-to-date on all oyster happenings.
Story by Jessica Patrick. Photos by Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar.