Pun intended, there’s no showboating at 20 Feet Seafood Joint.
Cod is fried until it’s encased a golden orb of batter. Most things are served in a foil-lined plastic basket because some of the best, most emotional food is served in a basket that'll never disintegrate from the Earth. Chef Marc Cassel’s french fries are a frozen product, without shame. He crisps garlic and wild twigs of rosemary and thyme in the fryer with the frozen fries. It is a miraculous execution. The garlic emerges spreadably soft, the color of caramel, and the rosemary and the fries clatter, always snappable, on the basket.
Cassel and Suzan Fries, his wife and partner in crime, opened 20 Feet a few years go after a memorable meal at Pearl Oyster Bar in New York. They were inspired by the high-quality seafood served without nonsense. Years later, 20 Feet’s french fries and sandwiches are some of the most underrated in the city. Sitting in the dining room, a six-pack of cold beer that you’ve brought in tow (yes, it's BYOB), you’d need to scavenge high and low for pretension.
“We just wanted a place where you didn’t have to sit up straight, and I can have some good music blasting,” Cassel says.
There’s a not-so-secret specials menu by the door. The items aren’t on the chalkboard simply because there was no room. The seared steak sandwich is a standout.
The kitchen flame-grills a teres major beef cut, which is a muscle that hangs out lazily on the cow’s shoulder. It’s tender from doing nothing. The beef is seasoned with salt and pepper, and there are no other tricks.
This is a razor-simple sandwich executed with thoughtful precision. The spring mix under the steak is dressed, brushing the crusty bread like a good condiment. One of the easiest ways to make a sandwich not suck is to dress your veggie toppings lightly in oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; this technique can turn a good sandwich into an Oprah speech. Thick, tender, juicy steak cuts lie over the baguette, which is topped with onions cooked low and slow with a touch of white wine.
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“No magic,” Cassel says.
There’s crunch from the bread, acid from the dressed greens and creaminess. After a bite or two, you’ll want a firehose that steadily pumps 20 Feet’s in-house horseradish cream sauce. Do not skip the french fries. They're some of the best in the city.
On a recent visit, it’s pouring rain near White Rock, and there are only a few folks in the joint. The music turns up a few notches, and the lights dim as Cassel enters. He aprons up, and the hiss-sizzle of cooking shrimp about to become golden-fried delicacies escapes the kitchen.
20 Feet Seafood Joint, 1160 Peavy Road