Charleston 2010

Tail of the Dragon revisited Charleston, South Carolina in January of 2010. Having missed a few of the places of interest on our last trip and having a mad craving for seafood, we returned. With temps too chilly to ride, and a snowstorm on the way, we decided to cage this trip and bring the golf clubs. It just so happened that the Bold Fresh Tour was in town and we discovered that we had tickets in our pocket.

Arriving in Charleston we cleaned-up and headed downtown for dinner. Failing to find The Boat House, which we later learned had burned down, we settled on the Slightly North of Broad Street (SNOBS) since it had been recommended by a friend. To start with, parking in the downtown area is hard to find. Circling the block several times we finally located a spot on a nearby side street.

SNOBS was packed even at 8:30 on a Wednesday night so we had a 30 minute wait at the bar. The place was crowded and loud which we can endure if the food is exceptional. I ordered a grilled Maverick Beef Tenderloin with deviled crab cake, béarnaise, and green peppercorn sauce. It was okay, but the crab overpowered the steak. Not the best combination in my mind.

Nancy ordered from the “small plate” menu a beet/arugula salad with blood red dressing and a pasta. She said it was excellent. A moderate priced Schug pinot was also good. We’d give SNOBS a fair rating, but will look further before returning.

Thursday night we had dinner at the Fleet Landing Restaurant located downtown on the water. We called ahead to make reservations, and got a table on the outside enclosed for winter, heated deck. We were the only ones out there and it was quiet compared to the roar inside. Not much on atmosphere, just a large open concrete building with decor termed “maritime chic”. The building was a debarkation point for sailors in WWII.

We ate fried oysters, seared scallops, low country grits, and southern slaw accompanied by a bottle of Schug chardonnay. The food/wine was excellent and we much enjoyed the privacy of the deck. We would return to the Landing with no problem.

Friday night we headed out for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner adventure. We always look for something special and we found the pot of gold in Charleston. The Bowens Island Restaurant had rave reviews on the RoadFood.com website. As we headed that way at about 5:30 Nancy, who is not exactly a lover of sea food, was reading more reviews on the Internet. Seems this place either gets a 5-star or 1-star rating, nothing in between. One reviewer recounted their 1-star visit saying a dog wandered through the restaurant as they ate and then a rat scampered across the floor. We almost turned around, but remained determined in checking this place out.

As we turned onto the side road leading out to Bowens Island a ragged sign informed us we were going in the right direction. Then the pavement turned to shellrock and a sign warned “END COUNTY MAINTENANCE”. Ever seen the movie Wrong Turn? We followed the rutted road to the end where we saw what appeared to be an abandoned boatyard on one side and mounds of oyster shells on the other. We parked between a new Cadillac and a rusted-out 80s Buick. A tall black man with a shovel was standing nearby between two dilapidated buildings. Two large pots were steaming over open fires. Ever seen a Stephen King movie?

I let Nancy walk ahead to confront the ominous figure … she can run faster and farther than I can. Soon she was waving me over. I would have felt better if I were packing, but all I had to defend myself with was a camera. As I approached the man was lifting the lid on one of the pots and Nancy was peering in. “Don’t get too close” I almost shouted.

Soon I too was peering into the pot filled with steaming oysters. The Roastmaster Henry was the main chef at Bowens and working at the main entrance keeps the oysters moving as you will soon see.

Walking toward an oddly decorated building over the water we were directed into what looked to be a bait shop. Here we met Robert who admitted to being the owner of the establishment. I saw beer in a cooler behind him and immediately felt better. Robert told us that his grandfather had started the restaurant back in the 40s and he had taken it over after giving-up his law practice. Robert also advised that he only took cash as we placed our order and he wrote it down on a spiral bound notebook. Reaching for my wallet he said that he’d catch us on the way out.

Robert suggested a tray of oysters for each of us since we told him we couldn’t handle the “all you can eat” option. He also suggested a fried shrimp dinner as an appetizer. We grabbed a Heineken and a Corona and headed back out front as directed to tell Henry the main chef and greeter to get us some oysters steaming. I put a Tail of the Dragon sticker on the door signifying that we had been here.

Walking into the main dining area on the dock was an Stickerunnerving experience. There aren’t words to describe the décor. Maybe “rustic low country boatyard marsh chic”. We’ll just let the photos speak for us. Bare, stained wood plank tables with old wood chairs and a couple of cheap plastic patio tables with unmatching plastic chairs made choosing a seat difficult. And this is the “new dining room” built in 2006 after the old place burned to the ground. we wondered where the “aged” furniture came from.

Nancy kept looking for the dog and rat show, but they never appeared. Another couple, likely the Cadillac owners, were seated across from us. The guy was going at a pile of oysters and discarding the shells through a hole in the middle of the table. They made a loud “clap” into the garbage can positioned below.

At the far end of the dining room, if you can call it that, was a man with a guitar trying to get some speakers connected. Painted on the wall over his head was “HELL HOTEL”. We hadn’t seen that movie and I don’t think we want to. Soon he was playing a Jimmy Buffet tune that really didn’t match the scene. Suddenly the music stopped mid-tune and he apologized saying “sorry, I dropped my pick”. A second guitar player soon joined in to provide entertainment it you can call it that.

The fried shrimp dinner appetizer arrived. Being somewhat hungry after skipping lunch for the golf game, we dug in. The shrimp was good, the fries typical and the hush puppies over done. We were not going to complain though, you can bet your life on that one.

Then Henry appeared carrying two big well-worn lunch trays filled with steaming oysters. A couple of 5-gallon buckets were positioned next to the table. Nancy thought they might be just in case she got sick, but I informed her they were for the shells. Soon we were doing the best we could to get the meat out of these things without cutting our hands on the sharp edges. We should have brought our Mechanix Gloves. I was savoring the unique taste of the low tide marshes as Nancy soaked her sliders in seafood sauce.

Henry reappeared with another shovel full of oysters for the other table. The Cadillac man ordered all he could eat and Henry makes sure you get what you order. He stopped by our table evidently feeling sorry for our ineptitude at getting some of the sliders out of their hard shells. Grabbing my knife he adeptly opened a couple of the big boys that had not peaked out from the steaming. Even Nancy seemed to enjoy throwing a couple of these down her throat.

It was a surreal moment in our dining history as Henry shucked, the two-man band picked another tune and the Cadillac man dropped his shells into the garbage can. Nancy went for another Corona, something she almost never does.

As we were leaving two groups of diners were heading in. They did not appear to be familiar with the place and we wondered what their impressions were. At least he sun had set dimming some of the décor. And the band, which I tipped $5 for trying, played on.

Back at the Embassy Suites Nancy headed for the bar and slugged down two vodka and cranberries. I settled for a couple of Alka Seltzers. The next morning we were both upbeat and admitted to sleeping fitfully hoping not to be sick.

Bowens Island Restaurant gets five-stars from us. It is one of the most unique dining experiences we ever had. The food was good if overpriced, but atmosphere and entertainment does cost a little extra. Even though we will likely never return, we do recommend this place for a one-time visit.