The restaurant business can be a thankless institution no matter where you set foot, but this seems especially true on Nantucket. In my short time on this island, I’ve witnessed what seems like every spot on The Rock opt for new management, switch out chefs, change hands, or up and move altogether. Sometimes the menu stays the same, sometimes the names change. It’s simply the nature of the beast on Nantucket. Very few folks, though, have soldiered on through the fog and rough seas, fighting to constantly improve the service, menu, and model of their eateries. Long-time resident Marshall Thompson has been in island restaurants for over 40 years, and his current claim to fame and labor of love is the Surfside Beach Shack.
In 2012, Marshall struck gold and had the opportunity to operate the Beach Shack. Located at the very end of Surfside Road on the middle of the south shore, the humble burger joint had been serving hungry Nantucketers and tourists for generations. He was made to promise to keep the soul of The Shack alive — a promise he keeps to this day; even the burger patties haven’t changed.
That same year, he made the decision to let go of his own downtown establishment, Even Keel, and focus his time and energy on The Jetties and the newly acquired Beach Shack. Last year, after moving on from The Jetties, Marshall was faced with opportunity. “It gave me a chance to look at the Beach Shack with new eyes,” he said.
His vision included a food truck, specifically a taco truck, serving the fresh, exciting summertime flavors of Mexican style street food. The truck, ironically a former dive search and rescue vehicle, was found in New York. Along with his daughter, Marlee, and a little help from his friends, he made his dream a reality. The “soft opening” was June 8, and we were thrilled to be a part of it.
The scenery is the first thing you’ll notice. The shack is nestled in before the sand at the end of the ample parking lot, and the sky-blue truck blends nicely with the endless horizon. Pristine dunes give way to, in my opinion, the best beach Nantucket has to offer. In between the two, on a strip of lawn, sit 6 freshly painted picnic tables, so take a seat and exhale if you’re not heading down the path to your towel.
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We started with a couple salads from the Shack. Throw away that packaged dressing because these greens come with the good stuff. The Mango Lime Quinoa pairs warm grilled asparagus and zucchini with quinoa, mango, and sunflower seeds over a bed of arugula. The housemade cilantro lime vinaigrette is zesty and mouth-watering and I don’t think there was a drop left over.
Crispy, thin-sliced cabbage in the Crunchy Vietnamese Salad made it hard to pick a favorite. It married bell pepper, carrot, and red onions with cilantro and basil, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds for some nuttiness. The sesame ginger dressing set the whole thing off. Both were perfectly refreshing and big enough to share.
If you do choose to make an unplanned trip to the beach after lunch, the Shack has you covered. The Beach Shop has everything you need for your day on the shore. You can buy boogie boards, toys for the kids, sunscreen and more, plus they even offer beach chair and umbrella rentals if you decide to make a day of it.
After the salads, we took a walk over to the truck for a few more snacks. It’s not every day you see Yucca Fries on the menu, so we went with those. Cut thick like steak fries, yucca is like a big brother to the potato: firmer, heartier, and a lot more flavorful. They were seasoned with a cilantro-lime crema, much like the topping on their street corn. Zesty, creamy, and delicious.
If you run out of the flaky, finger-licking homemade chips that come with the Chips and Guac just grab a fork, because this is the best guacamole we’ve ever tasted.
It wasn’t easy narrowing down the other options from the truck, especially the tacos. But we had to choose, so we went with the Wild Shrimp Taco and the Seared Summer Squash Taco. The shrimp was terrifically tender, simply beautiful to look at, the colors being as vibrant as the flavors. Each component shined through in every bite; the zip of the mango jalapeño salsa and the cooling cilantro lime crema were the perfect pair. We like to try vegetarian options, and the squash did not disappoint. Sweet, smoky, tangy, and surprisingly meaty.
I might be wrong, but if being wrong tastes this good I don’t want to be right: the lobster in the Lobster Quesadilla is going to be hard to beat this summer. The bright red meat matches the bright, explosive flavors in this food truck favorite. More of that mango jalapeño salsa and cilantro lime crema get the flavors going, but the jack, cheddar, and goat cheese blend brings it home.
Too much sun? Sip on one of the Shack’s iced tea and fresh-squeezed Libations. The Lemonade sweetened with organic cane sugar is classic sweet and tart, the Blueberry Mint Lemonade is so refreshing, but the Watermelon Limeade was our favorite. Now if only they’d sell it by the gallon.
We walked back to the Shack to have another look and decided we couldn’t miss the Shack Burger, truly a promise kept. A healthy sized all-beef patty grilled to gloriously juicy perfection, but from there the choice is yours. Bacon, avocado, onion, lettuce, tomato… The list goes on. A build-yourown burger by the beach is a hard thing to beat. The Krabby Patty (cover photo) sounded too good to miss, so we ordered one of those, too. Crab, shrimp and scallops packed into a patty with barely a breadcrumb in sight. It comes standard with lettuce, tomato, and an awesome red pepper- dill aioli, but feel free to doctor it up any way you want, just like the burger.
You might think after all that we’d be ready to roll home, but everything is so fresh, light, and bright that we had plenty of room for Ice Cream. Island- made ice cream fresh from Island Kitchen, that is. We tried a scoop of the Mint Chip, C is for Cookie, and the Vegan Coconut. The Mint was creamy and cool with big chunks of dark chocolate—none of those artificial brown shavings here. The vanilla in the C is for Cookie was as blue as everyone’s favorite cookie fiend and was loaded with cookie components like cookie dough, oreos, and M&Ms. The Vegan Coconut was subtle and sweet, icy and delicate yet so luscious.
We also went for a locally made Surfside Cookie, baked fresh by Tina at Nantucket Bound Cookies. Chewy, crumbly, and packed to the gills with peanut butter and chocolate chunks. It’s big enough to share, but we won’t tell if you don’t.
The plan for this season is more hard work and catering to those who come to Surfside Beach. Keep an eye out for online ordering and menu expansions in the weeks to come, including ceviche, poke bowls, and more. Place your order from the sand or anywhere, and never miss a second of the sun. Don’t be surprised if you see the truck on the move in the summer seasons to come, but for now it’s dropping anchor at Surfside.
Marshall might just have one of the most well-seasoned backgrounds in the Nantucket restaurant industry. His goal since his start at The Sandpiper in 1974, to his 26 seasons at The Club Car, opening Even Keel, stewarding The Jetties, to today at Surfside has been to provide good food at fair prices, and we love him for that. His passion for his work, the island, and its people is unmistakable. The food at Surfside is so good it might just make the beach an afterthought. See you at the Shack!
Surfside Beach Shack & Taco Truck Surfside Beach • 508-228-2921 surfsidebeachshack.com Open daily from 11 am Most menu items range from $6.50 to $14.75 Eat at their beachside picnic tables or take your feast to go Major Credit Cards Accepted • Plenty of Parking • NRTA bus