Durham, N.C. — It’s kind of crazy, right? The idea of this chef with an astounding culinary pedigree crammed into 205 square feet on Durham’s Mangum Street, slinging fried fish.
So crazy it just might work.
“A lot of my experience has been high-brow stuff,” says Ricky Moore, who is also the owner of Saltbox Seafood, which opened in its teensy location in the fall of 2012. “But I wanted to translate all that skill set to a concept and a brand that could appeal to the masses. That’s why I call it a joint. I retired from the restaurant business. I’m in the joint business now.”
And business is good.
“When you’re new, you’re fresh, everybody wants to participate with you,” Ricky says of his hot start. “But then the winter months came in, and still people came to this window and ordered fish, man – ‘Can I have this, this, this and this? – and they run back to the car. That’s how I knew I was onto something.”
The Army veteran and North Carolina native bounced around top-flight kitchens for about 15 years before coming back to the Tar Heel State seven years ago to work at Glasshalfull in Carrboro. He went from there to help open Giorgios in Cary, then found himself hopping up and down the eastern seaboard as a consultant for other opening restaurants. He decided, “Let me stay put a little while and see if I can find my own thing. I’m the operator, chef, dishwasher, everything. It’s refreshing for me. Now I am the be all end all.”
He says he’s more or less worked out the kinks of the business model and hopes to duplicate it in towns and cities all over the state. But he wants to make sure his roots are firmly planted in Durham first.
“I want Saltbox to be a fixture of the community, and it’s going in that direction,” he says. “I see the same faces at that window.”
Ricky’s Ordering Advice
- Initial visit: any fried seafood
- Second time around: barbecue-spiced griddled fish
- Third time’s a charm: crab grits and hush-honeys
Asked if he uses local ingredients, Ricky just pointed across the street at Sweet Beet City Farm, a thriving urban garden.
“Boom,” Ricky says. “I am hyper-local, dude.”
He gets kale, swiss chard, spring onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, new potatoes and more.
“It’s almost like my personal garden, but I don’t have to do all the tending,” Ricky says. “But I don’t see [using local ingredients] as extraordinary anymore. That’s standard operating procedure.”
Of course, the vast majority of his fish comes from the North Carolina coast in
Editor’s Note: On April 24, Chef Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint and Chef John Eisensmith of Six Plates Wine Bar will team up to present a four-course dinner dinner paired with The New York Times’ “America’s Favorite Cider Award Winner,” Foggy Ridge Cider from Dugspur, Virginia. The evening will begin with a cider-inspired cocktail on the greens of the gorgeous Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which will be made even more beautiful at the hands of Ninth Street Flowers. Tickets are on sale now at the Taste 2015 website. This is part of the Taste food event series, and a portion of the
proceeds will benefit the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C