Many restaurants have occupied 11 Center Street on Folly Beach over the last five years, but Center Street Kitchen was easily my favorite. Taking over after that horrible fail, The Conch (remember that infamous City Paper review?), the cozy Southern kitchen feel was just what the community needed. Center Street Kitchen won over locals, but its honest down-home style wasn’t enough to compete with its more kitschy seafood-oriented competitors during tourist season.
Fortunately, after parting ways with his partners at Rita’s, restaurateur John Davis seems to have revisited his Center Street Kitchen approach with Lucky’s Southern Grill on Folly Road: quality Dixie food served generously at a low price point.
I first visited on a Sunday afternoon. Lucky’s didn’t have a brunch menu at the time, but should by now, according to what the waiter told me. No one seemed to have a Bloody Mary on their table and the drink menu consisted of just wine and beer ($5 pints of Holy City and other microbrews), so I assumed they hadn’t yet gotten their liquor license. They actually have a full bar, my waiter assured me on my second visit. Still, the vibe at 1 p.m. on Sunday was more of the post-church James Island crowd than the just-woke-up Folly scene at Rita’s or Lost Dog.
We ordered a grilled salmon BLT. ($9) and a shrimp, sausage, okra, and blue crab gravy over cheese grits ($12). About two-thirds of the tables were full, and it took every bit of 45 minutes for our food to arrive, making me wish in retrospect that I’d inquired about that Bloody Mary instead of making a bad assumption. We dove in quick when our plates arrived.
Shrimp and grits is a hit-or-miss dish, and Lucky’s version is a winner. The yellow hominy grits form a solid base for local shrimp (bought at Crosby’s, said the waiter), thick slices of sausage, and plenty of okra. I’d argue that for $12 it might be the best shrimp and grits value in town, sending me from ravenous to over-full in about ten minutes.
The salmon BLT is a star as well. Two thick fried green tomatoes complement a handful of thick bacon slices over a salmon fillet seared just enough (they asked how to cook it). You can choose between about a dozen sides, including sliced heirloom tomatoes, mac and cheese, and collards. Sweet potato fries were the right call on this particular afternoon.
Stuffed and with a tab for two under $25, I left satisfied and eager to return. That occurred the following night, when I stopped back in with two friends from the beach. The tables were again about two-thirds full, and this time the food arrived in about 20 minutes. I had the pan-seared grouper on a hoagie roll with pickled sweet potato, field greens, and caramelized onion aioli ($10). The fish fillet was again cooked to just the right texture, but the dish wasn’t quite the monster meal of some other menu items (I saw the fried catfish over stewed tomato and cheese grits with black-eyed pea and crab salad come out to an adjacent table, towering over its plate). Considering all the other pros on the menu, I probably wouldn’t order the grouper again.
I will, however, be ordering their buttermilk fried chicken ($10), which my buddy wisely chose. His assortment included a wing, a thigh, a breast, and a leg, all battered in a thick, hearty breading good enough to eat the crumbs off the plate. It comes with two sides; the mashed potatoes were average, but the mac-and-cheese was classic coat-your-belly goodness.
Lucky’s will do well because the food is good and the price point is set right. The remodeled Applebee’s locale works, with new white paint creating a bright, open atmosphere throughout the room. To pull off quality food on working class James Island, as Smoky Oak demonstrates and Roadside Kitchen learned the hard way, the prices have to cater to the working class. Lucky’s definitely gives you your money’s worth, and there’s obvious talent behind the menu’s creation and in the kitchen.
As my waitress put it, “James Island needed a place like this; good Southern food with big portions.”
The only holdup for me may be the detriment to my belly fat, thanks to its location outside Gold’s Gym. Between running and fried chicken, I’ll always go with the grease. Maybe a visit to both would cancel each other out, but what’s the fun in that?