A few decades ago, a meal at the beach meant luring crabs with a chicken neck on a string, delivering them to your grandmother, returning to the surf to work up a good sunburn, then sitting down to the dinner table to eat deviled crab tucked deliciously into the very shells of the creatures that pinched you that morning.
Times have changed. Sure, you can still wrangle fresh seafood yourself or pick up excellent local catch from a myriad of roadside or creekside stands such as Crosby’s, Huff’s, Fishnet, or Captain Don’s. But relax, you’re on vacation. Lucky for us, great eateries have popped up on our islands like barnacles on pier pilings. So when our stomachs growl, we hardly need to lift a finger. Just throw on our flip-flops and amble over for the feast.
Here’s a guide to some of our favorite beach eateries.
Isle of Palms
Acme Lowcountry Kitchen
31 J. C. Long Blvd.
This sprawling, popular eatery has an extensive menu, so it’s basically impossible not to find something you love. Take the eggs benedict, for example; it comes 12 ways, topped with either jumbo lump crab cakes, fried shrimp, chicken livers, New York strip, or other decadent variations. Wings come in 10 flavors, and grits in seven — you get the picture. Acme slings out Lowcountry favorites with a smile, from sweet tea-brined chicken to succotash to fried green tomatoes. Their generous, golden shrimp baskets and fresh fish specials are sure to please, as are the Bloody Marys made with local pickled vodka. Don’t pass on the creamy peanut butter pie before walking back out to the beach for some food-coma nap time.
The Boathouse at Breach Inlet
101 Palm Blvd.
The rooftop deck of The Boathouse is a must for drinks and appetizers overlooking the intercoastal waterway with its surfacing dolphins and diving pelicans. Locals dock their boats then walk up the ramp for dinner (the rest of us hand our car keys to the hard-working valets). A thriving seafood restaurant for nearly two decades now, The Boathouse dishes up fried oysters, Toby’s littleneck clams, hush puppies, and seafood combos in a bustling, rustic environment — the ceilings are lined with vintage rowboats. The customizable fresh-catch option really shines, allowing diners to select their fish of choice and have it cooked and seasoned to taste. You can’t pick a better place to watch the sun set over Charleston’s silhouetted church steeples on the horizon.
Coda del Pesce
1130 Ocean Blvd.
There is perhaps no better place to perch above the cresting waves of the Atlantic, sample the simple fare of the ocean in creative guise, and chat over interesting wines that you’ve most likely never encountered, all while marveling at your good fortune. The view from chef Ken Vendrinski’s Coda del Pesce, sequestered just above Snapper Jack’s on the Isle of Palms is worth the trip alone, but the handmade pastas and some of the best seafood to be found anywhere on the east flank of the Cooper River keep the place full most any night in the high season. The grilled octopus is perfectly tender and charred, the seasonal fish crudo legendary, and the tiramisu cheesecake is an indulgent tradition to be savored at the completion of every trip. The only difficulty may be scoring a table, but waiting on the wooden back deck with a cold glass of vermentino while listening to tunes from the patio below may serve as a worthy prelude.
Black Magic Cafe
103 W. Erie Ave.
Although the Lost Dog Café is still Folly’s reigning breakfast-and-brunch spot, those long lines can be bypassed by heading down the block to the fresh, soulful Black Magic Cafe, whose blackboard advertises virtuous offerings such as bright salads with grilled shrimp, buttery avocado, or fresh basil, or veggie-packed omelettes. Black Magic touts itself as “healthy with a twist of naughty,” and naughty is exactly what you will find. Indulge in buttermilk fried chicken drizzled with sriracha honey, or the Morning After burger piled high with crispy bacon slabs, housemade pimento cheese, and a sunny-side up egg. Piping hot buttermilk pancakes come with pecan cinnamon butter, bourbon syrup, and a smattering of local fruit. Wash it down with herbal teas, locally roasted coffees, mimosas, or all-fruit smoothies blended up by friendly ladies who can offer astrological advice while you wait. The place is pure magic.
Blu Restaurant & Bar
1 Center St.
Location, location, location. The only Folly venue smack on the ocean, Blu could turn an easy profit cranking out crab cakes and surf and turf. But it goes much further than that. In fact, the folks at this Tides hotel eatery work with the S.C. Aquarium to ensure that its seafood is sustainably harvested. So when you bite into Blu’s shrimp and grits, you can rest assured knowing those shrimp didn’t fly here from Asia and that the grits were ground the old-fashioned way by Greg Johnsman of Geechee Boy Mills just down the road on Edisto Island. Blu is as close you’ll come on Folly to haute cuisine, but it remains approachable. Which means, you can enjoy your crispy snapper with black bean soffrito, pickled chilis, roasted corn, and avocado mousse, or you can simply dig into a big pile of peel-and-eat shrimp. A great spot to eat breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, or dinner, with live music on weekends, Blu is an especially great venue for watching the setting sun turn the sky hot pink as you enjoy your key lime martini or tawny port on the oceanfront deck.
122 E. Ashley Ave.
Chico Feo is as authentic a Folly joint as it gets. An open, rustic rear bar abuts a two-story shack, making you feel you’re dining in someone’s backyard. And with good reason — because you are. That someone is Hank Weed, whose shack out back has a small porch that doubles as a stage for funky bass players, bluegrass fiddlers, and gypsy pianists. It’s easy to get your groove on beneath the shade of towering trees day or night, pet the cat, and throw back some cold ones, be that a Mexican Coke, $2 PBRs, local brews, sangria, cider, or a signature Samurai Sling (cucumber-lemon-infused shots of sake). Menu offerings change constantly, but you can usually count on a fiery bowl of curried goat with potatoes and peas over steaming rice or shredded pork tacos wrapped in handmade corn tortillas stuffed with crunchy cabbage slaw and a side of Moroccan-spiced pineapple salsa. From Hawaiian poke to Dominican red beans to Asian-inspired noodle bowls, the flavors at Chico Feo are not shy. And for that we are grateful.
15 Center St.
Step off the main drag of Center Street and straight into an ersatz Oaxaca. Taco Boy’s infectiously rhythmic mariachi beats set the mood, as do glowing Christmas lights and spooky wooden masks that line the walls. The dimly lit, cozy interior is a great place to escape the summer heat while you nosh on a bevy of fresh taco choices, such as grilled tuna with chipotle slaw or slow-roasted pork with poblano rajas and ancho chile sauce. The rear courtyard is a popular spot, and Taco Boy’s small front deck promises great rubbernecking opportunities as you nibble your taquitos and inhale the lusciously fresh guacamole. Whether you choose a mango margarita, a draught Negra Modelo, or a flight of tequila, Taco Boy is a great place to feast and unwind.
The ‘Wich Doctor
106 W. Hudson
A few years back, husband-and-wife team Jeff Butler and Krista Hines launched this wildly creative sandwich and pizza nook just off Folly’s main drag. Cool off with their signature hibiscus ginger punch as you make selections from a myriad of pizza toppings like house-made sausage, Creole shrimp, white clams, even Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes, all served Neopolitan-style, which is to say thin crusted and blistered to perfection. Drawing culinary inspiration from Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Caribbean, the sandwiches are loaded with innovative flavor combos, so you can choose from Schezuan pork belly, lemongrass beef with nuoc cham, bulgogi with kimchi and quick-pickled cucumber, or ever-changing specials like green papaya salad and luscious noodle bowls. The ‘Wich Doctor is an exotic but laid-back addition to Folly’s foodscape.
2213-C Middle St.
Tucked into Sullivan’s Island’s version of a strip mall (i.e. shabby chic), High Thyme is a vibrant brunch spot for those in the know (and a suppertime favorite too). High Thyme offers the freshest of options, like golden tilefish perched on a bed of curried blackeye peas and basmati rice with a refreshing cucumber mango salsa and basil yogurt, or chilled ginger melon soup. Even the standard artichoke dip is gussied up with green chili and goat cheese. Scallops come fennel-dusted with tomato-caper couscous and a touch of sherry in the vinaigrette. It’s no wonder both locals and visitors are wild about this lesser-known gem.
The Obstinate Daughter
2063 Middle St.
Named after Britain’s revolutionary nickname for South Carolina, the Obstinate Daughter is arguably Sullivan’s finest offering, if not one of Charleston’s best restaurants in general. Slide into a booth by a set of open windows or grab a seat at the sleek marble bar as the savvy bartender whips up a William Moultrie, a refreshing summertime cucumber cocktail showcasing Hat Trick gin from local distillery High Wire. Then order anything off the menu. Anything at all. You will be thrilled. Executive Chef Jacques Larson heads up a motivated open kitchen team creating fries out of stone-ground grits, hand-shaping pastas, grilling octopus, and sourcing the freshest of local produce with an ever-changing menu to reflect the seasons. Summer brings Clammer Dave’s fine bivalves to wood-fired pizzas, red snapper so fresh it tastes like it just jumped out of the water and onto a bed of sweet potato farrotto in sage brown butter, and bowls of bright peas tossed with ricotta, lemon, and mint. And you can head downstairs to Beardcats Sweet Shop for an array of handcrafted gelatos and sorbets made with local fruit. The olive oil and sea salt gelato is a creamy, dreamy surprise, the perfect kicker to your Obstinate Daughter experience.
2210 Middle St.
Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, who weathered a summer on sultry Sullivan’s in the 1840s while writing his tale of buried treasure, “The Goldbug,” Poe’s Tavern’s walls are covered with the legendary author’s likeness (and bathrooms plastered with his fiction). It’s a great spot for local draft beer, an array of loaded burgers with a heaping of skinny fries, and zesty fish tacos and fresh salads. With outdoor seating in constant rotation, Poe’s remains a summertime fave for locals and visitors alike.
SALT at Station 22
2205 Middle St.
For years Sullivan’s Island was a sleepy beach town punctuated nightly by demur revelry on the small commercial strip at its heart. There were burgers and beer and a few attempts at fine dining, but none really sparkled before the opening of SALT. You might say that the inventive sushi, pickled shrimp toast, and fish carpaccio paved the way for other elevated offerings in the area. Executive Chef Laird Boles works closely with local fishermen to source fresh and often unusual catches, transforming them into sushi rolls or artfully plated ceviche and crudo. And you can get pan-seared fish over handcrafted pastas. Even Lowcountry classics like hush puppies come revamped in the form of blue-corn delicacies fried to a golden crisp and dipped in honey butter. With excellent fried oysters, hand-tossed pizza, steak frites, and the ubiquitous shrimp and grits, SALT remains a beachgoer’s staple.