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Food | Travel

Oregon shack that outgrew its description

From a bait shop to a spot with good food

Tony’s Crab Shack & Seafood Grill has flourished, serving dishes such as grilled Pacific halibut with sesame ginger sauce. Tony’s Crab Shack & Seafood Grill has flourished, serving dishes such as grilled Pacific halibut with sesame ginger sauce. (Max Boomer for The Boston Globe)
By Allison Boomer
Globe Correspondent / March 16, 2011

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BANDON, Ore. — Tony’s Crab Shack & Seafood Grill is nothing like the trendy restaurants Portland is known for. This cozy spot is located in a quiet southerly coastal town and run by silver-haired Tony Roszkowski, who is soft-spoken and something of an accidental restaurateur.

The diner seats 15 inside and has half a dozen outdoor tables that overlook the red-roofed “Crab Cooker and Smokehouse.’’ The little annex offers fresh, ocean-caught crustaceans steamed to order and wild Pacific salmon brined in soy sauce and brown sugar, then smoked over cherry wood. Fish and chips are available at neighboring snack bars, but Roszkowski doesn’t serve fried fish (he claims he couldn’t afford a fish fryer when he got started).

The diverse, healthy menu offers seafood lovers grilled sockeye salmon and Pacific halibut (always wild) with a choice of homemade sauces: butter-garlic, teriyaki, cilantro-lime, cranberry BBQ, and sesame-ginger. Other house specialties include steamed prawns, crabs, lobster, oysters, creamy and chunky New England-style clam chowder, delicate crab cakes, and Divers Catch (crab, prawns, shrimp, clams, and cod over fettuccine). Fish tacos, made with sauteed rock cod and corn tortillas, are piled high with shredded cabbage and tomatoes. Roszkowski discovered the recipe while traveling in Mexico and says, “They’re my answer to fish and chips.’’

Roszkowski’s story is one where luck, knack, and grit meet opportunity. He came here from his hometown of Bayonne, N.J., in 1989 looking for work. He had been in the cable television industry. When an older friend asked him to watch his tackle shop near the pier in Bandon, Roszkowski offered such a slew of ideas about how he would improve things, the owner sold him the place.

Already taken with the unpretentious little town, which is also known as Bandon-by-the-sea, Roszkowski decided the area could support an expanded retail establishment. At the turn of the 20th century, fishing, logging, and dairy farming kept the economy humming, but those industries were mostly gone. There were still magnificent beaches and new world-class golf courses, so the town was becoming a tourist destination. “The Scottish-designed Bandon Dunes golf complex, opened in 1999, put Bandon on the map,’’ says the restaurateur.

So without any experience in the food business, Roszkowski installed a cooker in the grass on the side of the tackle shop and began steaming crabs for tourists. They were the same customers who bought bait and crab rings. Pedestrians passing by and smelling the seafood also bought some.

Next up: a live crab tank. Slowly, over the next 15 years, the menu evolved from cold crab cocktail and oysters to Bandon crab sandwich, hot crab and shrimp sandwich, and wild salmon burger.

The year-round restaurant has a kitchen staff of four. In the summer season, the workforce swells to nine. Roszkowski’s brother, Robert, came five years ago for a visit and to help out, and stayed.

So the tackle shop turned into a successful restaurant and the entrepreneur with no experience has lines out the door. He has a simple formula. “I was never satisfied,’’ says Tony Roszkowski. “I always wanted to improve, do more, make the place better and better.’’

Tony’s Crab Shack & Seafood Grill, 155 First St., Bandon, Ore., 541-347-2875, www.tonyscrabshack.com.

Allison Boomer can be reached at allison.boomer@yahoo.com.