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Amazing Food But Upsetting Signage At Southport's Twee New Deli

By Anthony Todd in Food on Apr 25, 2016 7:38PM

Smoked fish tasting. Photo by Anthony Todd.

Occasionally, I feel about a restaurant the way a parent feels about a promising but delinquent child: disappointed and sad. So much potential going to waste! That's exactly how I feel about Snaggletooth, the new "Modern Deli" serving boutique smoked fish, bagels and schmears in Southport.

Let's get this one thing out of the way first: The food is absolutely incredible. The house speciality is unique smoked fishes, and some of them made my eyes literally roll back into my head with salty pleasure. There is barbecue sablefish with lapsang souchong tea which tastes like the most delicious fish you've ever tasted fish-jumped out of the sea and onto a campfire, where it died happy. There is a shakshuka that is so savory, replete with chickpeas, tomatoes, ramps, olives and tiny microgreens, that I had to pause after every bite to reset my palate. There is an entire "schmear bar" with kimchi cream cheese. Kimchi! What's more, Snaggletooth is a small business run by passionate people, and the entire food media scene is madly in love with it, judging by the reviews.

Shakshuka. Photo by Anthony Todd.

So why do I have my sad face on? Well, in the spirit of assistance, rather than simply complain about all the things wrong at Snaggletooth, let me offer some well-meaning pieces of advice.

1) You have to do something about the portion sizes.

Snaggletooth is the very definition of twee. There are chalkboards, plant walls, oyster shells on the table... it's so hip you can barely stand it. And this extends to the painstakingly beautifully-plated food. Thin slivers of fish, all cut by hand, are draped onto the (all different, adorably non-matching) plates along with tiny dots of perfect mustard. It's gorgeous.

But here's the thing: I felt like I needed brunch after my brunch. I spent $50.26 on brunch for two people, and I left hungry. In fact, when I ordered the smoked fish tasting ($18), the person at the counter warned me I had better get a bagel to go with it, because it wasn't enough food. The bagel, of course, was delicious! And another $4.

2) You have to do something about the line.

Snaggletooth is counter service, which means everyone queues up in line. Which is fine, but when I arrived, there was only one person in front of me and it took almost 10 minutes to take and process their order. Why? Well, no one seemed to know what buttons to push on the register, and in keeping with the twee-ness, they do Rare Tea Cellar tea and adorable chemex pourover coffees. At the register. There's no other prep station, so each person has to wait while the entire coffee order for the person ordering is being prepared, painstakingly.

3) You have to do something about the space.

It's gorgeous! There are neat touches everywhere. And I get that a restaurant can't always pick the ideal location, so I won't complain about the odd layout of the place But all the seating is upstairs, which means you have to carry your food up. Plus, it's not clean. The upstairs is carpeted (always a bad choice for a cafe) and it was covered in crumbs and detritus. There's an open closet where customers are meant to deposit dishes, with an open garbage can, which I sat right next to. This does not scream $50 brunch.

4) You have to do something about the service.

It wasn't clear to me at first how one got one's food. It turns out that they call your name and you come down and get it. Once again, a bit odd for a place this expensive. Then I saw these little signs all over the upstairs. Cute for your college coffee shop? Yes. But for your $50 brunch?

Photo by Anthony Todd.

Then there's this one, about which I have some concerns. I don't really want to read sort-of-racist references to Asian prostitution while I eat my bagel.

Photo by Anthony Todd.

What is going on? Plus, that adorable coffee and tea service? Somehow led to lukewarm tea and weak coffee, despite the pretty performance. And there is both a tip screen on the register and a tip jar on the counter. I utilized both, before realizing that there actually was no service, either bringing food to you or cleaning up afterwards.

Snaggletooth, I want to love you so hard. You are exactly the kind of creative, independent restaurant that we need a ton more of in this town. But that doesn't mean you get to skip the basics. I won't be able to quit your delicious fishes, and if I ever need a bagel with the best cream cheese in town, I'll probably sneak in. But sit down for another brunch? It'll be a while.

Snaggletooth is located at 2819 N. Southport Ave.