First Take: Marc Cassel’s 20 Feet Seafood Joint in East Dallas

“Marc Cassel is opening a seafood joint in my neighborhood? Oh, man, I looooved the Green Room. I’d do that Feed Me Wine Me, and the servers were all so knowledgeable without being pretentious, and there was that time Eric Clapton ate there, and Deep Ellum really was a special kind of place. Remember when Nirvana played Trees and that fight broke out? The mussels! With the Champagne and ginger broth? Marc Cassel is going to bring his Baby-Ruth’s-Mansion-Star-Canyon-Green-Room-Dragonfly funky ass to East Dallas? I bet he’s going to do narwhal foie gras nachos and sous vide pufferfish po boys. This changes everything!”

The preceding is only a slight exaggeration of the anticipation with which folks in my hood, me included, have been looking forward to Cassel’s 20 Feet. Really, it’s not fair to Cassel and his partner-wife, Suzan Fries. Nor is it fair to review a place on the night of a soft opening, which 20 Feet had last night. But I am not here to be fair. I am here to eat fish.

20 Feet is a tiny place. At full capacity, it’ll only accommodate maybe 40 people. Fifty if a couple of them sit in each other’s laps. There is work yet to be done (naturally). The lighting, in spots, is harsh. The bare, church-pew-like banquette along the back wall feels like it was built on a tight budget. The music needs a more attentive ear. Last night the soundtrack went: Simon & Garfunkel, The Pixies, Ziggy Stardust, REM, The Cars and — this was the killer — that “Oh, Yeah” song by Yello, the one from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Here’s the soft-opening menu, which was written on a blackboard and will surely grow and change as Cassel and Fries get their sea legs:

Clam chowda, $7
Soup of the day, $7

6 oysters on the half shell, $11
Green Room mussels, $10
Mexican shrimp cocktail, $9

House, $5
Cardini, $7

New England lobster roll, $18
Crispy cod po boy, $9
Fried oyster po boy, $9
Pork belly po-bahn mi [sic], $9
Falafel po boy, $9
Side of fries, $4

Fish and chips, $14
Pork ramen noodle, $10

Chocolate cream pie, $5

I went with my wife and kids (daughter 7, son 14). We ordered mussels, shrimp cocktail, the misspelled pork belly bahn mi, and fish and chips. As with 20 Feet’s neighbor Good 2 Go, you take a number and find a table. Our order arrived quickly.

The shrimp cocktail was a delight, especially because it was too spicy for my kids to eat. More for me. The bowl held big chunks of firm shrimp, avocado, and sliced cherry tomatoes. Me, I’d like to scoop this stuff up with a well-made tortilla chip. Just a thought.

The Green Room mussels were not quite as I remember them. I recall slurping up that Champagne broth once I’d eaten all the mussels at the Green Room. 20 Feet’s version was too briny for slurping. But Marc Cassel invented the damn things, so it’s hard to imagine that he’s doing anything different than he did all those years ago. In any case, the mussels themselves were great, and I had to work quickly to stay ahead of my wife. Otherwise she would have polished off the dish by herself.

I figured the fish and chips would sate my daughter. Because, you know, French fries and fried fish. What’s not to like? She picked at the fries, took one bite of the fish, and declared she didn’t like it. I say this with love. She’s an idiot. While the fries were nothing special, the batter on the cod was light and remained crispy even after it had been in its basket long enough to grow cool. She built a small village of plastic toys on the tabletop and refused to eat anything.

Which brings me to the pork belly bahn mi (read: banh mi). My son ate half of it. He liked it so much that he asked if he could order another and split it with us. Except he ate all of the second sandwich, too. These things are damn good. The roll has a crunchy crust that plays well with the julienned carrots, while the soft interior of the bread snuggles up to a thick slice of fatty pork. You’ll want to try this.

After the second sandwich, our bill came to $56. This is without alcohol, mind you. I prefer not to eat dinner with my children while sober, but 20 Feet doesn’t yet have a liquor license.

With all respect due the Cheap Bastard, I am a cheap bastard. When Goodfriend opened a year or so ago and began selling $10 burgers in our neck of the woods, I at first balked, having grown accustomed to Keller’s. But you know what? Goodfriend sells a burger several steps up from Keller’s, and my neighbors pack that place nearly every night. They had been yearning for an adult place that took its food seriously. And it wasn’t by accident that Goodfriend opened without a kids’ menu. So, too, 20 Feet. It’s a humble, friendly neighborhood joint run by a husband and wife — but it takes seafood seriously. Again, no kids’ menu. It’s the sort of place that should be on your go-to list when you call your wife as you’re leaving work and she asks, “What should we do for dinner tonight?” If you’re like me, you’ll consider that tab and wince. At which point the answer will become obvious: “Let’s go to 20 Feet tonight and leave the kids at home to fend for themselves.” 1160 Peavy Rd. 972-707-7442.

Pork belly banh mi
photography by Jerry McClure
Green Room mussels
photography by Jerry McClure
Shrimp cocktail
photography by Jerry McClure
Fish and chips
photography by Jerry McClure

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