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Fish and chips at Brine Box on the Oceanside pier. Photo by David Boylan
Fish and chips at Brine Box on the Oceanside pier. Photo by David Boylan
ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Seafood in its element at Oceanside’s Brine Box

I’ve always had a bit of a problem eating seafood at a restaurant that is not in some proximity to a body of water. It’s more psychological given that we live in the modern age where jets transport seafood, fresh or fresh frozen, from all corners of the globe to every significant market in the US in short order.

So yeah, it’s an unwarranted freakout. It’s not an issue at Brine Box, which sits at the end of the historic Oceanside pier, nearly a half mile out to sea. Plus, we know that proprietors Jessica and Davin Waite are sourcing locally and sustainably from purveyors like our now famous fishmonger Tommy Gomes, which makes the Brine Box experience even more local…and worth supporting.

Specials on the menu will constantly evolve to reflect what’s available in local harbors, with fish like rockfish in the winter and an abundance of pelagic species like swordfish, tuna, and yellowtail in the summer. Pelagic refers to fish from open waters, typically far offshore.

Brine Box is the latest addition to the growing list of top-notch eateries from the Waites that include the iconic Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub, Shootz Fish & Beer, and the Plot, the couple’s vegan joint that’s expanding to Carlsbad and Costa Mesa. It should be a given by now that any restaurant these two put their touches on will not disappoint. The chef de cuisine at Brine Box is Rachel Hurley, who has worked with Davin on several of his projects, including Wrench and Rodent and The Plot.

I had forgotten the last time I had been on the Oceanside pier and did not know that its 1,942-foot-long expanse makes it the longest on the West Coast. According to the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, the pier was built in 1888, and in 1976, a 600-foot section collapsed during a storm.

The pier was demolished and rebuilt, with the current version opening in 1987. It provides excellent people-watching with a broad cross-section of humanity represented and is lined by folks fishing for the bounty below.

Please leave it to the brilliant minds of the Waites, Oceanside’s stellar culinary couple, to come up with the idea to create a seafood shack in a refurbished 109-square-foot kiosk. The menu is designed to be mobile, but I wanted to enjoy my fresh catch in its element…out to sea.

There are a couple of benches available it would be even more ideal with some tables and shaded seating, making an already epic experience even better. Word is these are on the way.

Brine Box is located at the end of the historic Oceanside pier. Photo by David Boylan
Brine Box is located at the end of the historic Oceanside pier. Photo by David Boylan

Having learned a bit about Davin’s British roots from past Lick the Plate features and interviews, that influence of what they call a “chippy” or informal fish-and-chip shops prevalent on the coast of England is prominent. And, of course, Brine Box elevates that concept on several levels. The couple’s zero-waste, sustainable-only mantra can also be found here.

Of course, his version of fish and chips features local beer-battered halibut served with crispy fries and classic mushy peas. I’ve sampled this dish in England several times, and honestly, the Brine Box version is better. Put something crisp around local halibut, and you can’t go wrong.

Then, to enjoy that crispy goodness surrounding tender halibut, it on the railing ledge of the pier, with the majestic California coastline jutting out and an ice cold beverage – is right up there with any dining experience I’ve had. I will return for more of that dish as it is world-class.

I also sampled a Brine Box special of the day: Sashimi of Bluefin Tuna with Zucchini Gazpacho and pickled vegetables. This basket of super fresh raw seafood beauty would not make it further than a few feet away from the Brine Box. I found a patch of shade nearby and devoured it in short order. I’d like 10 more of those, please.

The menu is simple and constantly changing with what’s available locally. The Market Catch comes with quinoa potato salad, sweet and sour sauce and veggies from the Plot Garden Project in Oceanside. Curry Chips are crispy fries and house curry sauce, and you can add the fish of the day.

Cheesy Chowder Tots is a perfect remedy for serious munchies with crispy tater tots topped with melted American cheese and homemade clam chowder. I love how Deven and Jessica can be both highbrow and lowbrow on the same menu. And I use the term lowbrow with the utmost respect. I want to enjoy this dish as the marine layer rolls in and it’s sweater weather. I can’t wait for actual rain to happen to make the trek out of the pier to Brine Box for the whole UK experience.

Meat is represented with a hint of Hawaiian plate lunch influence as a Spam, Egg & Cheese Sando. The perfectly placed touch of highbrow here is the anchovy aioli.

Rounding out the menu on my visit was Seared Tuna or Korean BBQ Prawns with a seasonal salad.

Brine Box delights on many levels, and I would highly recommend it.

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