Making Local Work: New fish taco stand opens in downtown Juneau

Deckhand Dave’s is giving Juneau locals a reason to brave South Franklin Street’s summer crowds. Juneauite David McCasland’s recently opened food truck serves his take on the fish taco using only fresh and local fish.

 

“These are pretty classic fish tacos,” McCasland said of the rockfish, halibut and salmon he serves.

Except for the red cabbage slaw accompanying the fish. “Not a lot of people use red cabbage,” he adds and “nobody does the panko-battered salmon bites.” Also, there’s the Mexican crema sauce in spicy-lime chipotle and mild-avocado.

“I’ve definitely got my own spin on it,” he said.

McCasland developed his signature taste in the last five years working in commercial fishing. He was the cook for the last three years. “I did a lot of practicing,” he said. “Tried it on the crew, tried it on myself, and then even when I wasn’t fishing, I would have parties at my house (to) try food out (and) get opinions from my friends.”

McCasland said he got lucky with his first year fishing.

“It was the highest predicted year of fishing for pink salmon. It was the highest price and it was the biggest run and I knew I had to go seining that year.”

He got a spot on the F/V Owyhee, a seiner, with captain Scott McAllister and earned the “Deckhand” in his business’ name – as well as enough to pay off his student debt. After four more years of fishing, he was ready to give it a start.

“I always wanted to own a restaurant,” he said. “I figured this would be the time to do it. I was debt-free. So I sold everything I owned and I got a loan through JEDC.”

Still, he was surprised by the expense of permitting and the added costs as he got closer to opening. When his hood didn’t pass inspection, he had to rip it out and get a new one custom fitted — along with a full fire-suppression system, adding an extra $8,000 to his total.

There had to be some material sacrifices along the way.

“I had a nice truck but I sold it. Now I have a super beater,” McCasland said. “I wish I had the old truck back.”

But to McCasland it’s worth it.

“It’s definitely a gamble. But I feel like this is the time in your life to make a gamble.” At 26, McCasland said “right now I could lose it all and still be fine.”

Not that he intends on losing.Though he’s only been open a few weeks, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

“I’ve got a savory house-made tartar that pretty much everyone raves by,” he said.

And while it may only be a fish taco stand, this is no slap-dash effort. There’s a tented eating area with tables McCasland made out of old wire spool. The condiment baskets, he made from Japanese packed-roe boxes from Excursion Inlet. The truck and three of the tables are coated in pictures taken by Juneau photographer Chris Miller last year when he visited the F/V Owyhee to take photos for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.The fourth table features a custom wood-cut topographical map of the Inside Passage made by Chilkat Fabrication.

When it’s sunny, McCasland pulls off the sides of the tent and takes advantage of his waterfront location. “It’s a real nice place to eat,” he said.

But it’s the food that people come for, and right now McCasland is keeping it simple with the options of beer battered or blackened rockfish tacos, beer battered halibut tacos and salmon bites either in a taco or on their own.

He picked his menu based on what he likes and what sells.

“I don’t do any cod,” he said. “I think rockfish is superior.” He likes its flavor and texture and the flexibility it gives him while cooking.

“The tourists want halibut so if they want to pay the price they can have their halibut,” he said. At $17.99 it’s the most expensive item on the menu.

He said he also does a halibut cake special (think crab cake with halibut) that will show up on the menu. He hopes to have his beer and wine license by July.

“I think it’s just going to keep getting better,” he said.

• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer and design wizard Randi Spray at randi.spray@capweek.com.

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