Southern restaurant doors swing wide open to hospitably welcome visitors to sample Lowcountry cuisine. In the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area, that means pulling a chair up to enjoy Shrimp and Grits, fresh grouper, buckets of steamed oysters, She-crab Soup, Seafood Casserole, Rosemary Cornbread and fresh Peach Cobbler.
And in a delightful development that has taken place during the past decade, what were once humble regional dishes have been tweaked, prodded, enhanced and ultimately glorified with global pizzazz. Sometimes the old tried-and-true methods still work best, but in other cases Lowcountry cuisine has been elevated to rival any of the world’s best dishes.
Take Shrimp and Grits, for instance. Before World War II, coastal residents ate shrimp and grits for breakfast because they could easily net shrimp. The dish was filling, healthy, tasty and inexpensive, and was made simply by sautéing the shrimp in butter and placing them on the grits.
Today there are so many gourmet variations on the dish, Nathalie Dupree of Charleston, S.C. came out in 2006 with the “Shrimp & Grits Cookbook.” In just the Myrtle Beach area there are at least 20 different but equally excellent methods of preparation, from the classic butter recipe to ones with brown gravy or tomato-based sauces.
She-crab soup is a dish classically make with cream, lots of lump blue crab meat, crab roe (that’s why it’s called SHE-crab), mace and sherry. Some chefs skip the roe, others substitute chopped hard-boiled egg for the roe, many don’t add sherry. But all the versions are creamy bowls of Southern heaven.
The fresh seafood caught off the South Carolina coast is a big reason Murrells Inlet, just 15 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, is called The Seafood Capital of the World. A fresh piece of grouper handled by one of the area’s capable chefs is unparalleled, because correctly cooked grouper is a dense and tender fish that takes on the flavor of the ingredients being used to prepare it.
Imagine a piece of succulent white grouper so juicy and tender it could be called “meaty,” that is sautéed to have a black pepper crust and then is served with a drizzle of shrimp cream sauce. Or picture a grouper filet sautéed with roasted red pepper, caramelized onion, black olives and grapes that’s finished with an herb veloute.
Today’s Myrtle Beach isn’t all about soul food or country cookin’, although the food does soothe the culinary soul and country cooks would be proud to pull their chairs up to these tables.
Here are where you’ll find some of the best Southern tables in town:
Austin’s at Pawleys
U.S. 17 (Ocean Highway)
Owner/chef Bill Austin is a Culinary Institute of America alum. His restaurant offers upscale Lowcountry fine dining with French flair and a contemporary Southern décor. Every dish is a delight to the senses, from grouper to filet mignon. I can heartily recommend the Pan-roasted or Blackened Local Grouper Filet with Scallops that’s served with a chive and plum tomato sauce.
9922 N. Kings Highway (U.S. 17)
Any dining preference is accommodated here with a large menu of choices from spectacular seafood (crab cakes, shrimp scampi, seafood casserole), juicy steaks and succulent poultry, lamb, veal and pork. The desserts are renowned (fruit and nut cobbler a la mode, homemade cheesecake, strawberry shortcake) as is the impressive Sunday brunch. Chestnut Hill has private rooms just right for large families, rehearsal dinners or dinner meetings, and diners seated by the window overlooking the pond might see the resident ‘gator.
Luck and Mulberry streets
Discerning fare is served in this gracious old home tucked back on a quiet side street. They offer seafood, prime rib, lamb chops and even grilled ostrich. The Fried Green Tomatoes, Baked Seafood Platter and Soft Shell Crabs are all excellent.
Bovine’s Southwestern Grill
3979 U.S. 17 Business
This waterfront restaurant in Murrells Inlet has casual fine dining specializing in wood-fired grilled items, including locally caught seafood, and brick oven-baked gourmet pizzas. The view is spectacular, and the kitschy Southwestern décor, such as saddle bar stools, is stylish and fun.
Bubba’s Fish Shack
16 South Ocean Blvd.
Bubba’s is a fun place for couples, large families or other groups. Great seafood and sandwiches are presented in a casual atmosphere. Try the Chili Glazed Shrimp.
Bummz Beach Café
2003 N. Ocean Blvd.
Sandwiches and salads are fresh, the drinks are icy-cold and the oceanfront cabana usually has a live band in season. Casual vacation attire and mentalities are encouraged.
Capt. Dave’s Dockside Restaurant
4037 U.S. 17 Business
The old Dave’s was torn down to make way for this new upscale waterfront haven with a thrilling and romantic view of the inlet. A high-tech grill allows for superbly cooked meats and succulent sushi-grade seafood. Southern Living magazine recommended the bacon-wrapped scallops, and we really love the Rare Grilled Tuna Steak Sandwich with bean sprouts, cucumber and wasabi mayonnaise.
Carriage House Club at Litchfield Plantation
Kings River Road
Arriving at this refined restaurant on the grounds of a former rice plantation takes you through an avenue of live oaks. They’re open for superb breakfasts and elegant dinners. It’s also a popular site for weddings; the grounds are impeccably groomed. Specialties include Lemon Grouper, Crab Cakes with lobster-tarragon sauce and She-crab Soup.
7726 N. Kings Highway (U.S. 17 Business)
Is it an art gallery, a coffee and dessert haven or a gourmet dinner spot? It’s all three, and the experience is luxurious. Dress up, and try the Scallop Cake.
4065 U.S. 17 Business
Life just doesn’t get much better than sipping a cool drink on the deck at Creek Ratz. Fresh seafood and the awesome inlet view bring diners back. For lunch or dinner, this is a happy and casual place. The Grouper Sandwich is delicious.
Croissants Bakery and Café
3751 Robert M. Grissom Parkway
This 12-year-old locals’ favorite for divine pastries and delectable breakfasts and lunches just moved to a new and bigger location. A breakfast specialty is Shrimp and Grits. In addition to fresh-baked goodies baked on-site, they have wine, Seattle’s Best coffee and suppers-to-go.
Divine Fish House
3993 U.S. 17 Business
If you want a more upscale atmosphere, dine inside and appreciate the inlet view and gorgeous décor. If you’re wearing shorts and flip-flops, dine outside at their Wahoo’s Bar. The seafood is great inside or out.
4031 U.S. 17 Business
The atmosphere is casual, but the seafood is serious. You get a great view of the inlet, plus excellent local seafood like crab cakes, shrimp and flounder. They also have char-grilled steaks. Don’t forget to “Say hey” to Bubba Love’s statue outside.
Frank’s and Frank’s Outback
10434 U.S. 17 (Ocean Highway)
As one of the most esteemed fine dining restaurants in the Grand Strand area, it’s hard to believe Frank’s used to be a filling station/convenience store. The seafood and steaks are legendary, as are the gourmet pizzas and other fine fare served in the open-air part called Frank’s Outback. If you like roasted garlic, try the GOOP appetizer. You can feel comfortable dressed to the nines or wearing business casual attire.
9448 U.S. 17 (Ocean Highway)
The number of menu items is amazing, as are some of the more unusual dishes such as Crab and Sweet Potato Soufflé or Fried Alligator. Breakfasts are great with choices like Salmon Patties and Eggs or Catfish Fillet with grits and a cheese biscuit.
Joe’s Bar & Grill
810 Conway Ave.
Across from Barefoot Landing
North Myrtle Beach
It’s hard to explain how a restaurant can serve extremely upscale food in a comfortable casual atmosphere, but Joe’s pulls it off. Not to say the ambiance isn’t well-heeled, because the restaurant is beautifully appointed. But the feeling is one of a lavishly fun vacation rather than prim properness. Just relax and enjoy the marsh view and the menu, like Southern Traditional Trout stuffed with crab and served with Southern Comfort Mushroom Cream Sauce; or Hickory Smoked Chicken with a Bourbon Pecan Glaze.
Lee’s Inlet Kitchen
4460 U.S. 17 Business
Fried seafood, broiled seafood and grilled seafood are what has been served here for six decades. They do it well. Dress comfortably, including a loose waistband.
Louis’s at Pawleys
10880 U.S. 17 (Ocean Highway)
In the Hammock Shops at Pawleys Island
Owner/chef Louis Osteen has been credited with the revival of gourmet Southern food, which is showcased at this Pawleys Island restaurant. Some folks dress up as befits the cuisine, but after all this is Pawleys Island so “nice casual” also works. Full-blown casual is appropriate in the adjacent Fish Camp Bar. Pray that Shrimp and Grits is one of the specials, but any of the dishes here are memorable.
Marina Raw Bar
U.S. 17 at Vereen’s Marina
North Myrtle Beach
Situated by a marina off the Intracoastal Waterway, the nice view of yachts does not overshadow the delights of a bucket of steamed oysters, a nice piece of flounder or a soft shell crab.
Nance’s Cedar Hill Landing Restaurant
5225 U.S. 17 Business
Try a seafood platter or a bucket of steamed oysters, and while you’re loving those you can also enjoy the beautiful inlet view. It’s a very casual place.
4204 U.S. 17 Business
This gem started life as a private residence, then became a boarding house. Fresh seafood has been served there since 1910, making it the oldest restaurant on the Grand Strand. It’s popular for good reason – the food is incredible. Try the Flounder Roosevelt stuffed with crab and topped with lobster cream sauce, or Tasso Cream Shrimp over creamy grits. The building has been lovingly restored, and the dining room overlooks a lush lawn, live oaks and the inlet.
The Parson’s Table
U.S. 17 at McCorsely Ave.
Owner/chef Ed Murray serves upscale continental cuisine with Lowcountry flair in this former church with gorgeous stained glass windows. But there’s no need to wear church clothes; you could even get away with nice shorts and a collared shirt here while you tuck into She-crab Soup, Lobster and Lump Crab Cakes or Local Flounder Meuniere.
13291 Ocean Highway (U.S. 17)
Owner/chef Steve Perrone is the area master when it comes to gourmet take-out food. Every day he has a smorgasbord of seafood dips, salads, fine cheeses and superb entrees that can be eaten at the cozy shop or taken home. Each take-out dish come with a label attached containing customized reheating instructions; you won’t believe how spectacular his re-heated encrusted flounder or shrimp and grits tastes. You can also pick up a great bottle of wine.
Rice Paddy Restaurant
732 Front St.
The location inside an old bank exudes Southern charm and hospitable gentility. Be sure to check out the former bank vault that’s now a wine cellar. Gourmet Southern cuisine is on the menu; the lump crab cakes, and specials like shrimp and grits, are outrageously delicious. While the meals are upscale, about any manner of dress would work here except for T-shirts and flip-flops.
1111 Third Ave.
Owner/chef Darren Smith has a deft touch for creating innovative gourmet dishes that stay true to his Southern roots. For lunch the Spring Roll, Quesadilla of the Day and many entrée salads are popular. Dinners are delightful wonders with choices like Crispy Eggplant and Tomato Stack with feta, pesto and tomato caper sauce; Fried Flounder with blackened green tomatoes, lump crab, stone-ground grits and shellfish cream; or Chargrilled Ribeye with blue cheese scallion butter, roasted new potatoes and fried onion strings.
801 Front St.
The specialty is Shrimp and Grits with tasso ham and Andouille sausage; a bonus is a fresh-baked fluffy biscuit hidden under the grits. The Herb-crusted Grouper, McClellanville Crab Cakes and Pecan Chicken Salad are all delicious. The building is historic, the ambiance cozy and warm and there’s a great view of the Sampit River.
Sawgrass Room at Pawleys Plantation
70 Tanglewood Drive
Many people assume since Pawleys Plantation is a gated upscale housing community that the restaurant is not open to the public, but that’s not so. Anyone is welcome to dine in the plantation-style restaurant and enjoy daily breakfasts, graceful dinners on Thursday and Friday nights and lavish Sunday brunches. Appropriate attire is suggested.
Sea Captain’s House
3002 N. Ocean Blvd.
This former beach cottage is a landmark for locals and visitors. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily in a spectacular oceanfront setting, and reservations are never accepted except for large private parties. There is a breakfast buffet, but we like the Crab Cakes Benedict off the menu. Daily lunch specials are always a treat, and for dinner you can’t go wrong with any seafood dish.
Sea Oats Café
Inside the Blockade Runner Motor Inn
1910 N. Ocean Blvd.
North Myrtle Beach
249-3561, ext. 222
The immaculate cleanliness and the ocean view will dazzle you, but the incredibly delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners will thrill you. Breakfasts feature fresh pork products the chef travels to buy; for lunch you must try the lump crab-studded She-Crab Soup; and at dinner the Seafood Platter comes highly recommended. Go early; there are only a dozen tables inside and a few more outside.
Front Street beside the clock tower
Breakfast and lunch is all that’s served here, and they do it well. For breakfast we recommend the hoe cakes, and at lunch pay attention to the daily specials. It’s a meat-and-three diner like you’ve never had before.
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