Kyle Jensen / The Record — A dozen oysters, including Willapa Bay and Fanny Bay oysters, are served to customers.

Tastes of the sea on deck at new Langley eatery

Despite South Whidbey being surrounded by an abundance of Dungeness crab, clams and fish in Puget Sound, it’s lacked a restaurant with a seafood-based menu for years.

The owners of Langley’s Prima Bistro have changed that with the opening of Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar.

“Having run Prima for 11 years and hearing from so many people over the years that they were looking for a seafood restaurant, we knew we had to jump on this opportunity,” co-owner Jenn Jurriaans said. “Even though we serve plenty of fish at Prima, people were looking for a much more fish-focused place. So we knew first hand that there was a hole to fill.”

Saltwater opened its doors in early July after moving into the storefront on First Street that Cafe Langley once called home. It’s the second restaurant opened by Jurriaans and Sieb Jurriaans, co-owner and chef, in the downtown area. The new eatery is in the building next door to Prima Bistro.

When walking through Saltwater’s doors, the briny sea smell wafts through the restaurant and out onto the sidewalk, indicating to customers what to expect on their plates. The menu is stocked with seafood mainstays such as fish and chips, chowders, a selection of crab dishes and fish entrees. The small space has an oyster bar, with a rotating selection of eight oyster varieties sourced from the region. Servers can also be seen bringing out an imposing mound of seafood, known on the menu as a “seafood tower.”

According to Jenn Jurriaans, the majority of the seafood is sourced from Coupeville’s Penn Cove Shellfish. The exception is the lobster, which is flown in from Maine, as well as certain types of fish.

“We are sourcing all our mussels, clams and oysters from Penn Cove (Shellfish),” Jurriaans said. “We are so lucky to have that resource right down the road.”

Unlike Prima Bistro, which has mid range prices and a fine dining atmosphere and menu, Saltwater aims for a “totally laid back, fun and energetic vibe,” according to Jurriaans. The menu contains a range of prices from cheaper plates around $10 such as fish and chips and chowders to a more high-end experience with entrees such as crab cakes and lobster.

Langley Mayor Tim Callison says Saltwater satisfies “a thirst” for a seafood-oriented menu that Langley and South Whidbey residents have had for some time. As mayor, people often make suggestions to him about what Langley is missing in its food scene, and seafood regularly came up prior to Saltwater’s opening. Although other restaurants have seafood bites, he said, to have a whole menu is something that has been missing.

“People were looking for those options,” Callison said. “The oyster bar is particularly a hit, and it seems like the restaurant has gone down well with locals and tourists alike.”

Callison added that the Jurriaans are part of the “changing of the guard” in Langley business. In the past year or two, many longtime “beloved” shop owners have closed up shop for different reasons. Yet as they’ve closed their doors, a younger generation of business owners has moved in.

“Except for the holy trinity of vacant spaces — Mike’s Place, Dog House Tavern and Edgecliff — every single retail location in Langley with the exception of one is occupied,” Callison said. “We’re at what I’m calling 100 percent occupancy for commercial spaces in Langley, and it’s good to see.”

Contributed photo — Saltwater co-owner Sieb Jurriaans examines one of the restaurant’s “seafood towers.”

Kyle Jensen / The Record — A selection of oysters from Puget Sound is served.