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February 2010: metroCUISINE

Absolutely Fresh Seafood and Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar

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We all love it when an unlikely success germinates from humble beginnings. Absolutely Fresh Seafood is just such an Omaha success story. It began in 1979 when its owners drove a refrigerated truck chocked full of fresh fish and shrimp from New Orleans to Omaha. They then sold it on the corner of 70th and Dodge, then later at 120th and Pacific. 


Greg Lindberg,

Absolutely Fresh Seafood

and Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar

 

  

Finding fresh, not frozen, shrimp in landlocked Nebraska was not always an easy feat. Buying it off the back of a truck on a hot and humid day certainly gave pause. People were understandably a little nervous at the thought of buying food off the back of a truck, "but the quality was good and price, reasonable, so word got around," recounts Greg Lindberg, owner of Absolutely Fresh Seafood and Shucks Oyster Bar.

Lindberg created the company's name by happenstance. Cautious customers would ask if the shrimp was fresh, Lindberg would respond, "It's absolutely fresh."

He added other types of seafood - flounder, trout, and red snapper - so many to necessitate a warehouse and the company's first sea food market at 18th and Leavenworth. In 2003, he opened a second market to service west Omaha at 119th and Pacific. Area restaurants and clubs began approaching Lindberg to supply seafood for their guests. "Now we are bringing in 50-60 kinds of fresh fish each week," says Lindberg.

He purchased Sherms Sea Food on 119th and Pacific, which had a handful of tables tucked into its market. His next venture was Baileys Breakfast & Lunch on south 120th Street. Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar spawned when Lindberg expanded his luncheonette within the fish market. In 2006, he and Chef Jon Dye added another 1,500 square feet and expanded the fish sandwich and soup menu. Omaha's only independently owned oyster bar and seafood restaurant was born. He expanded a year later, opening a second Shucks Fish House in the Shops at Legacy.

"We're too damned cheap. But that's what were known for."

-Greg Lindberg

"One of my main jobs has been to educate people here about seafood in general," maintains Lindberg. In the early years, Omahans were familiar with sea food staples like shrimp but reticent about venturing into sea food's unknown depths. Introducing Mahi-Mahi took some doing on Lindbergs part. "At first no one was interested. So I went down to a very nice Old Market restaurant, had the chef cook some up, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and I went from table to table, getting people to sample it," recalls Lindberg. 

"But, one good thing about being in business for a long time and maintaining a good reputation," he continues, "is the building of trust. If I say its good, people tend to believe me. At least in the world of fish," he quickly qualifies.

The clam chowder and Shrimp Po' Boys are popular dishes. With the weather as cold as it has been, a warming, aromatic kettle of soup is always simmering on Chef Jon's stove. Lindberg likes Ahi Tuna, a far cry from generic canned tuna, and shrimp: "If I were stranded on a desert island, I would be okay if I could have fresh tuna and shrimp." Shucks' seared tuna is a favorite, as are the restaurant's soft shelled crab, fried in a very thin breading. Initially, he did not want any of his fish fried. But, customer demand required his rethinking that principle. Still unwilling to mask the taste of fresh fish with a layer of dried bread, he compromised, creating the "thinnest breading in town."
Also popular are Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bars prices. Most items will run you under $10.00, often including a drink. And, keep in mind this is fresh seafood, predominantly wild caught and flown in daily from coastal U.S. towns and Latin America. Lindberg concedes: "We're too damned cheap. But that's what were known for."

The atmosphere is laid back, like you would expect from a beach seafood hut. It's jeans and flannel come winter and shorts and flip-flops in the summer. Says Lindberg: "I dont think you could overestimate how casual we are. I personally turn up in a t-shirt almost every day."

With Lent approaching, things are winding up at Shucks and Absolutely Fresh Seafood. But, that is the way Lindberg likes it. Though he has petitioned the Pope to double the 40 days of Lent, he has been repeatedly dismissed. Never mind. Business is brisk despite the Pope's disregard. More and more Midwesterners are vicariously traveling to warmer climes when they tuck their napkins under their chins and crack open crab legs or slurp back a plate of oysters. It's the next best thing to dipping your toes in the sand.
 

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