Working as deckhand on her father's fishing boat during summers in high school and college put Laura Anderson through some harrowing ordeals.
She's ridden out high swells that felt like taking a spin in a washing machine. She helped navigate a vessel through dense fog, and didn't panic—too much—when the steering chain on her father's fishing boat broke, leaving them bobbing in the ocean in stormy weather.
All those experiences taught her a valuable lesson: that life on the open water wasn't for her.
"I didn't really find the whole 'man in the sea' romantic notion was really all that for me," she says. "My dad's boat was an older wooden boat that always had a ton of water on the floor—even in the house."
It did, however, make her fall in love with the seafood industry. When the opportunity came to open a seafood market in Newport, Ore., with a local angler in 2005, her entrepreneurial instinct kicked in. The original plan was to operate a small eatery that would really be more of a sidekick to the store, but Local Ocean's bay-to-plate prepared meals—particularly its tidal pool-sized stews brimming with prawns, shellfish and crab—became so popular, it had to add more tables to meet demand.
One of the traits Anderson developed while chugging around the ocean all those years ago was resiliency, which is currently critical for any business owner hoping to stay buoyant during the pandemic. So while she can't yet reopen the restaurant—which sits just steps away from the docks where commercial fishing boats are moored—Anderson has thought of other ways to put their haul to good use.
"I think it was just after we had to do our closure in mid-March and I sent everybody home," Anderson says. "It was a lot to swallow. I took about a week off, but got really bored and I had to get creative—look around at what we have at Local Ocean and what we haven't lost. We lost our dining room, but we still had access to this great local seafood."
Her solution? Develop a CSA-style fish box for customers.
It's no secret that valley folk are desperate to visit Oregon's beaches, after all. For now, a vicarious taste will have to do, and Local Ocean is happy to bring some salt and brine to its landlocked neighbors in the form of the Dock Box, which launched in Newport nearly two months ago and recently expanded to Portland.
"We've had so much request from the Willamette Valley," Anderson says. "It really makes sense because we had so many customers from Portland and Eugene that would drive to the coast just to dine at Local Ocean. We miss them and they miss us. Through Dock Box, we're able to bring our dining experience to them in the safety of their home."
Each kit comes equipped with the ingredients you'll need—down to the tartar sauce—to put together a classic dish from the restaurant's menu. In weeks to come, Anderson plans to add some of its rotating specials to the lineup, as well. Local Ocean drives the boxes to the B-Line warehouse at the Redd at Southeast 8th Avenue and Salmon Street every Wednesday, where customers can then have them placed in the trunk of their car between 2 and 5 pm.
Even for people who've started devoting hours to the art of meal prep while in lockdown—soaking beans, power baking, inventing new ways to eat pancakes by turning them into cereal—cooking seafood may still seem intimidating or unnecessarily messy, given the scales and the shells and the tiny bones.
"A lot of people are nervous to cook seafood on their own," Anderson admits. "We know that most seafood is consumed in restaurants—probably two-thirds. So getting people to cook seafood at home has been an exciting challenge."
The Dock Box tries to make it easy for the reluctant home chef—you don't even need to wield a knife to chop vegetables or dice garnish, since Local Ocean has already done that for you. For some, that may wrest away a little too much culinary control. But for the lazy cook, the tired cook or the frazzled cook working, parenting and homeschooling during a global health crisis, the simplicity is welcome.
"Dock Box isn't going to go away just because our dining room reopens," Anderson says. "I think we demonstrated that people want it, and hopefully want to continue to cook in their homes. Yes, I want them to come to the restaurant—don't get me wrong. But I also think it's cool that people are doing more cooking at home and sharing that experience."
Still, I wanted to experience it for myself. So I picked up a recent box containing all the elements for Dungeness crab cakes with fennel slaw and fries.
My only other attempt to make crab cakes at home was about 10 years ago, after a friend who spent the day nursing pots on the coast ended up with an abundance of crustaceans and I gratefully relieved him of several pounds. The first go-round resulted in an oily, flour-coated mess that produced soggy, dense pucks. After that, I figured it was best left to the experts.
Fortunately, the Dock Box version of crab cakes is nearly foolproof. The cakes come pre-assembled—the trickiest part is forming patties of lumpy meat and bread crumbs that will remain light while not falling apart. All I had to do was coat them in panko—also provided by Local Ocean—which was the ideal breading since the airy flakes wouldn't absorb the olive oil I used to cook the discs in a stovetop skillet.
Even though I followed the three to five minutes recommended per side, I must have had the heat on a little too high since my cakes ended up with a crust that was closer to slightly burned toast than the golden-brown hue I was aiming for. Despite my bungle, the cakes ended up with a satisfying crunch and the simple breading didn't compete with the crab's delicate sweetness.
The sides are even easier to whip together, provided you can unseal a Ziploc and follow basic directions. I emptied one bag of ready-to-cook fries onto a baking sheet and simply popped them into the oven for about 30 minutes, intervening only to give them a good shake about halfway through. I then took a different bag filled with chopped Napa cabbage and diced fennel and dumped that into a bowl. After tossing the veggies in the provided balsamic vinaigrette, presto—I had slaw!
To finish, I sliced the box's lemon into wedges for a fresh drizzle of acid over the crab. It was the only time I had to pick up a knife during the entire meal prep.
ORDER: Local Ocean's Dock Box, which includes two separate meals, can be ordered at localocean.net for pickup 2-5 pm Wednesdays at B-Line at the Redd at the corner of Southeast 8th Avenue and Salmon Street. The average price is $59 for two or $109 for four, as well as a $10 fee to cover shipping from Newport.