Finding good seafood, especially here in landlocked Utah, isn’t all that easy.
But — at least in Davis County, anyway — the hunt for a fresh lobster roll or shrimp burrito is about to become a little less complicated.
A new Slapfish seafood restaurant is set to open any day now in Farmington’s upscale Station Park, bringing with it the idea that good seafood doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Or even a claw and a fin.
Chef Andrew Gruel, Slapfish’s founder and executive chef, told the Standard-Examiner his restaurant shoots for that sweet spot between upscale and fast food.
“From our perspective, when it comes to seafood you’ve got your finer dining, or your more greasy spots like Long John Silver’s,” Gruel said in a telephone interview late last year. “We wanted to position ourselves in the middle.”
(And of a truth, here in Utah we don’t even have the two above choices, as the nearest Long John Silver’s is in Rock Springs, Wyoming …)
Gruel admits he never expected to be working in the seafood industry. He attended college in Maine, and was actually studying piano performance when he decided to switch gears.
“I worked my way through school in restaurants and on docks, and as I proceeded I ended up spending more time in restaurants than school, so I decided to immerse myself fully.”
He earned a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University.
The Slapfish concept started out as an award-winning food truck that eventually morphed into a brick-and-mortar restaurant based in Huntington Beach, California. Gruel says it wasn’t an easy switch from food trucks to restaurant.
“On a food truck it’s all about a specialized menu: three or four items you serve in volume,” he said.
And food-truck diners tend to be a younger demographic — a lot of students and folks going to festivals and the like. The difficulty, Gruel says, was in predicting who their audience would be in order to leverage that into brick-and-mortar success.
“Diners aren’t as adventurous as people who eat at a food truck,” he said.
Gruel, who has appeared on multiple Food Network shows and has been featured in numerous national publications, spent years working in restaurants — “ranging from The Ritz Carlton to the midnight shift at Denny’s,” as the bio on his website states. His love for the ocean eventually led him to direct a nonprofit project at The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, called “Seafood for the Future,” which helped raise culinary awareness for the sustainable seafood movement.
Today, there are a dozen Slapfish locations in the United States, with three of them in Utah — Lehi, Park City and Sandy.
And now, a fourth location, this one in Farmington, is about to open. It’s part of an ambitious plan Gruel has for his restaurant.
“Our goal is 100 locations in the next four or five years,” he said. “We just want to kind of refresh and redefine the diner’s perspective on seafood and increase consumption nationally. There’s a void in our diet for good, healthy seafood.”
The Slapfish menu features a selection of eight appetizers, including the Street Taco, Chowder Fries, Lobster Taquitos and Shrimp Ceviche. Original menu items include the Ultimate Fish Taco, the Epic Shrimp Burrito, the Fish & Chips, the Shrimp Roll, and the Reel Fish Sandwich.
In what’s referred to as the “Slapfit Salads and Bowls” portion of the menu, lighter fare like the Simply Grilled Fish Salad, Citrus Shrimp Salad and Grilled Fish Bowl is offered.
Slapfish also offers a Traditional Lobster Roll and a Lobster Grinder.
But far and away the most popular item, according to Gruel, is the Clobster Grilled Cheese, a mix of lobster, crab and a creamy herb sauce.
“If you’re looking for indulgence, in Utah the Clobster Grilled Cheese is No. 1 by far,” he said. “And maybe add an order of Chowder Fries. That’s the best combo if you’re not counting calories.”
For some, the menu may offer a bit of sticker shick. Prices are on the high side, but then again this is seafood we’re talking about.
Gruel says he designed his menu with picky eaters in mind, including those who might not be all that keen on seafood. Indeed, he says “tons of kids” love Slapfish seafood, as do the most discriminating of parents.
“All we choose are clean bites,” Gruel said. “It’s not an oily fish. And it’s bold with flavor and seasonings.”
Concludes Gruel: “We’re a lot of people’s choice of seafood, for people who say they don’t like seafood.”
And for those who still aren’t convinced seafood is the way to go? There’s always the Surf N Turf Burger, a grilled beef patty smothered in lobster, cheese and creamy caramelized onion, with a special sauce.
“I call that, like, our gateway item,” Gruel said. “You get the richness of lobster, but it’s not fishy.”
Whether you love fish or hate it, Slapfish seafood restaurant’s founder is confident there’s something for everyone.
Says Gruel: “It’s fish so fresh, it’ll slap you.”