Thursday, August 29, 2013

Charleston Restaurant Week 2013 Begins September-Get Ready For The Fun And Feast Now

It has been a relatively cooler August than previous years, and I am not being facetious when I say that. I have done my fair share of sweating with the high humidity during the past few weeks, just haven't melted under the usual near 100 degree temperatures one would expect. Mercifully, the continuous flooding downpours have abated for the moment. You can return to kayaking and paddleboarding in the coastal waters once again instead of the downtown streets.

Looking down on King St from Stars-Future restaurant?
Looking to September, you can expect more of the same, but I am happy to report flooding of a different kind. The streets of Charleston will be flooded with locals and visitors for one of the most highly anticipated culinary events in the Holy City, Charleston Restaurant Week. It all begins Wednesday, September 4th.

It is hands down, elbows off the table and napkins in the lap one of my favorite events of the year. It provides an opportunity to try a Charleston restaurant you haven't as of yet had the pleasure to dine at, and the list of restaurants to choose from gets longer with new establishments opening up frequently throughout the year with all the renovating taking place downtown, notably on fashionable Upper King Street.

To assist you in your choice, I have checked several surveys and best restaurants lists for names of possible candidates for you to consider. Comparing the lists, a few names consistently show up on all the more notable ones. On Forbes 100 Best U.S. Restaurants, McGrady's came in at 10 and Husk came in at 90. On Southern Living's 100 Places To Eat Now, Husk and McGrady's appear again along with The Fig, The Grocery, Hominy Grill, The Macintosh, Martha Lou's Kitchen, Two Boroughs Larder, Xiao Bao Biscuit, and the Ordinary, also nominated on Southern Living’s Best New Restaurants In The South. Opentable's 2012 Best Overall Winners-Top 100 Restaurant List named Charleston Grill located on King Street.

Unfortunately, not all the aforementioned restaurants are participating in Restaurant Week by offering the prix fixe menus consisting of three items for one price, either $20, $30 or $40. You will have to check the list provided by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, which also provides the proposed menu and a link to the restaurants website so you can make reservations, if that is necessary. The list grows daily as Restaurant Week gets closer, so check back with it frequently.

Husk, 82 Queen, and High Cotton were three of my previous choices. You can read about my experience by clicking on the restaurant's name to access my reviews. Three names I am giving consideration to this time around are Stars Restaurant, Sermets and Circa 1886. None of these restaurants appeared on any of the best restaurant lists, but better than any survey or compiled list is the input from a very close friend who has already been there.

During a recent conversation, my friend informed me of their dining experience at Stars Restaurant. She raved about it. "The meal was fantastic and the service was excellent," was her summary. Her chosen entree was the Appalachian Trout. I have been to the Stars Restaurant, but not for dinner.

On a recent outing to the Apple Store on King Street, I took the opportunity to peruse the numerous specialty shops lining the street and made a curiosity trip to Stars for a quick walk-through. While there, I had a drink at the reclaimed Tigerwood bar on its rooftop, which boasts a stunning 360 degree view of Charleston around bustling Upper King Street. The dining areas were impressive.

Charleston Restaurant Week will run to September 15th. So, check the list, make your choices and schedule reservations. Hope to see you around town.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SUPing With Coastal Expeditions On Hectic Shem Creek-A Fun Way To Spend A Day

Shem Creek was alive with watersports enthusiast and boaters. It was a typical Sunday crowd. For me, it was another  suntastic day SUPing on the water. It was hot, it was humid and a nice breeze was blowing in from Charleston Bay. Only difference from my last outing, Nature Adventures Outfitters had no SUP boards available due to the large crowd of renters, so I went to Coastal Expeditions located on the other side of the bridge further down creek.

Coastal Expeditions is located in a quieter area of Shem Creek with less boat traffic, unlike Nature Adventures Outfitters, which is right in the heart of the hustle and bustle associated with the numerous waterside restaurants and bars. The rental office and adjoining deck overlooks the creek. It is considered the flagship store of Coastal Expeditions, a family owned business that has been on Shem Creek for 20 years. There are two other locations, one on Folly Creek and one on the Isle of Palms and Morgan Creek. It also has restrooms and changing area, conveniences Nature Adventures Outfitters lacks.

Fortunately, SUP boards were available at Coastal Expeditions. It offered a two hour rental for $29 and a four hour rental for $40. I was somewhat disappointed they didn't offer a three hour rental like NAO for $29, but they were gracious enough to accommodate my concerns and said, "If you happen to come back in three hours, we will only charge you an additional $10." I was pleased with the arrangement even though it was more expensive than NAO.

The attendants readied our boards and we entered the meandering waters of Shem Creek. I started off in the kneeling position, but once I pulled away from the dock, I tentatively pushed up to a standing position and paddled toward the bridge, passing the private docks of Shem Creek's residents and the tall grass growing along the water's edge gently swaying like a hula dancer in the tidal current and balmy breeze.

Moments later, we passed under the Coleman Blvd bridge and entered the busy waters of the restaurant and bar district of Shem Creek. Fellow paddleboarders and kayakers competed for the best picture taking positions as several dolphins were breaching the waters around the numerous boats pulling-in and taking-off from the docks close to the Waters Edge.

We unabatedly continued forward past the restaurants toward Charleston Bay and Crab Bank Island, our first planned destination. Near a dock extending out into the bay on the left side of the Shem Creek's head waters, the surf was choppy from the boats cruising passed. Unable to navigate the turbulent waters, I took my first unplanned plunge into the warm, salty waters. Fortunately, my pride was spared any embarrassment when a fellow paddleboarder likewise descended into the waters. Unfortunately, I lost my sun glasses in the mishap. They were loosely hooked to the straps of my life jacket. Maybe someday, someone will glimpse a dolphin swimming around Shem Creek sporting a pair of sunglasses.

I pulled myself back onto the board and continued. Strangely, we were the only paddleboarders in the bay and on the island. The view of the downtown skyline, Ravenel Bridge and historic Shem Creek was spectacular as usual. I soaked in the ambiance and chatted awhile with my fellow paddleboarder about life's simple pleasures, family and hobbies. The three hours passed by quickly. It was another fantastic day of paddleboarding thanks to Coastal Expeditions.

Coastal Expeditions offers more than just paddleboard and kayak rentals. It hosts charter expeditions to some of the remotest, unspoiled estuaries and islands of coastal Charleston, accessible only by boat or ferry. Islands and estuaries like Morris Island, Capers Island, Bulls Island and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Charters depart from the Shem Creek Maritime Center and Garris Landing in Awendaw, SC. For a complete description of what you will see and schedules, go to Coastal Expeditions and Bulls Island.

Get out and paddle your cares away for a day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bowens Island Restaurant-It's Like Pluff Mud, Either You Love it Or You Don't

It stands above the island's tidal creek like an old brown pelican perched on a weatherworn dock,
spreading its wings in the warm southern sun. A hodgepodge of grayed timber, rusty corrugated steel, old doors for windows, graffiti covered tables and piles of bleached oyster shells, it was recognized as an "American Classic", basked in the lights of Hollywood and successfully endured trial by fire. It is tastefully Lowcountry through and through in its fare and adored by the locals, but if you are expecting to be served hand and foot, you're at the wrong place. It has been tagged with a reputation similar to pluff mud, "Either you love it or you don't", and that is just about how its reviews read.

Located on a 13-acre island, Bowens Island Restaurant is just five minutes from Folly Beach. It was established 46 years ago by the Bowen family. The original structure was mostly destroyed by a fire in 2006. In that same year, just before the fire, it won a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award - named one of eight "America's Classics" boasting "timeless appeal and quality food that reflects the history and character of its community."

In 2010, the restaurant appeared in the movie Dear John under the name Shrimp Shack. It has been referred to as a seafood dive, but when that reference is coming from Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines the reference would be more a compliment than a slur - meaning in this case "a simple place with traditional fare and unforgettable ambiance."

On Charleston Magazine's "Charleston Bucket List - things every local must experience", dining at Bowens Island Restaurant was number 25. The magazine said, "there's no finer place in the world to watch the sunset over the marsh, slurping oysters harvested just a few yards away." A large deck overlooking the water with umbrellaed tables is perfect for such nightly renditions.

If you are looking for a menu to view on its web sight, you can forget it as well. Oysters, fried shrimp, hushpuppies, Frogmore stew, and cold beer is all you will find. The oysters, what the restaurant is best known for, are locally harvested and shoveled onto old, wooden tables from the fire pit. The beers are all local brews. Finally, be forewarned - No frills, no personalized service, loud patrons and a rude bartender are what you should expect according to some of the reviews. The food - Judge it for yourself.

The restaurant had that old shack-on-the-water, oysterman village appeal. Piles of white oyster shells decorated the landscape. The remains of an old boat ramp overgrown with sea grass reminds one of past maritime glory. A fishing pier with a raggedy pavilion was connected to a bait hut just outside of the rust tattered Sophisticate room. My favorite was a Caribbean style sign hanging above two tables reminding you it was "Another Day In Paradise."

Bowens Island Restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday 5pm to 10 pm. It is located at 1870 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston, SC. A kayak/paddleboard rental run by Charleston Outdoor Adventures is on sight.

View Larger Map

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Grease" Now Playing At The James F. Dean Theatre Is Audaciously Entertaining and Exuberant Fun

All you need is a simply constructed set, a few 1950's style props, and a greased-up, hopelessly devoted group of local actors Born to Hand-Jive and you have the ingredients for a fun night out. There Are Worse Things I Could Do on Friday Summer Nights, like cruisin' N. Main street in Greased Lightnin' or spending the evening Alone At The Drive-in Movie with Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee the Rock 'N' Roll Party Queen, but none better than a reserved seat in the third row of the James F. Dean Theatre being entertained by the Flowertown Players latest stage production of Grease. Well, maybe a front row seat would have been one better, but I am not complaining.

When the 1978 musical film of Grease was released, I didn't pay much attention to it. Watching greaser John Travolta singing and dancing around was not my idea of entertainment at the time, although seeing good girl Olivia Newton-John strutting her stuff in skin-tight, black leather pants would have been worth the $2 ticket. To this day, I still haven't watched the movie in its entirety, even though it was successful both critically and at the box office with the second-best selling album of that year in the United States. It also bears the distinction as the No. 1 highest-grossing musical, to date. So, why expose myself now? Partly, the greaser-collegiate days are long gone, I was a collegiate, but ultimately, I love the theater.

The Flowertown Players have compiled an energetic, passionate group of Grease lovers, and it oozed on stage. The sold out theater was spellbound and applauded every song. The two-tiered stage was simply constructed and efficiently used for accommodating the changing scenes. A live band added to the realism.

The stage crew handled the various props almost flawlessly. A significant challenge was the necessary incorporation of a real car, an integral piece of equipment that needed to be moved on and off the front of the stage for a few of the scenes, by hand. There was just this one minor malfunction I will leave unmentioned because the crew and actors were quick on their feet and didn't miss a beat. Its live theater and its called "thinking out of the box".

The actors were typecast well. The Pink Ladies of Rydell High all delivered an excellent performance. Andrea Rausch played the rudely blunt, hardcore Betty Rizzo and was a standout in the song Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee.

Beauty School Dropout, Frenchie, was played by Rebecca Jones. Rebecca walked and talked the part spot-on and mirrored the look of the girls I remember from the late fifties.

Sarah Farra was captivating as Marty, the girl you would love to date. I loved her lively and cutesy deportment. Alyssa Nasce rounded out the group with a good supporting interpretation of Jan. Finally, squeaky clean Sandy was played by Jenny Aubrey. What a transformation at the end.

I particularly enjoyed the scene and combined vocals where Sandy and local boy Danny tell their versions of the warm Summer Nights they shared while she was vacationing on a beach. Cody Smith delivered some strong vocals in that scene as Danny Zuko, the bad boy of the T-birds. A black, Travolta pompadour would have made him a little more believable. Just sayin'.

Chris Skipper portrayed Roger with the usual enthusiasm he gives all his characters. Oh, it's not a nice thing to moon the principal, if you believe his story, but hey, that's Roger. Porter Conroy(Doody) and Spencer Chapa(Kenickie) both turned in admirable performances as did the whole supporting cast, crew and production team under Monica Shows as director. Not to leave unmentioned, the singing and choreography of Born To Hand-Jive was a noteworthy highlight.

So, dig out your black pants, white t-shirts, pink jackets, and slick your hair back and come on down to the James F. Dean Theatre for a night of riotous, PG 13 fun with the Rydell High Class of 1959. The seats are selling out fast for the remaining shows. Purchase your ticket.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Rise From Ashes To Glory-The True Story of RB's Seafood Restaurant on Shem Creek

In 2002, the scene on Shem Creek would have been much different than the stunning waterfront we experience currently. A 35-seat eatery located in an old fish shed next to Red's Ice House was reduced by an accidental fire to ashes and rubble, leaving a blackened and charred heap that was once RB's Seafood Restaurant. It would be difficult to imagine the resulting void given the gorgeous view we are blessed with, and that is because from the ashes of gloom but not doom, a bigger and better RB's rose in its place.

The new seafood establishment seats more than 300 guests and has been nominated "the number one waterfront restaurant" for the past three of the 34 years it has been on Shem Creek, the original 35-seat eatery opened in 1979. The RB stands for Ronnie Boals, the owner and operator.

The front entrance walkway was flanked on both sides with navigation buoys and a large anchor adorned the landscaping. A sign hung above the door bearing the words, "We appreciate all who pass through our door." Stepping into the restaurant was like entering the lavish corridors of the old Titanic with its teak and mahogany accented decor. A long bar stood to the right, to the left, near the seating desk, was a ship's wheel. Sea pictures framed in ship portholes lined the walls above the dining booths and strategically placed oars, paddles, lanterns and sextants supported its nautical theme.

The day I visited the restaurant it was hot, humid, and overcast. I had been to RB's previously, but only for a cocktail with friends. The upper eating area was closed that late night, so we sat in the open-air porch on the lower level overlooking the boat dock and Shem Creek.

I requested a table on the upper section. The hostess directed me to the stairs located on an open porch lined with adirondack chairs of various bright colors.

At the top of the stairs, I was greeted by a life-like green alligator dressed in chef's attire holding a plate of napkins in one hand and a chalkboard in the other with the words "Welcome to Tiki" written on it.

It had an island feel. A colorful wrap-around bar with a bamboo-trimmed top dominated the space, above it was a grass-thatched canopy. I was greeted by another hostess. She directed me to my table. The whole table arrangement, unlike anything I had seen before, was a wooden swing with a grass-thatched top that you stepped onto, which I did.

I ordered a Palmetto Amber and from the extensive lunch menu selected the Mahi Mahi Sandwich for $13.50 with one side of Creek Fries. I sipped on my beer, watched the Thriller pull out from its covered dock by Vickory's with a boat-load of passengers, took pictures of the life-like pirate hanging from a rope, and enjoyed the gentle back and forth tidal motion of the table-swing while savoring the delicious fish sandwich.

After completing my meal, I sat on one of the chairs on the boat dock until it started to lightly rain. A group was boarding one of the shark charters. I cleverly remarked, "Sharks don't care about rain." They facetiously agreed and pulled away from the dock with the smell of boat fuel mixed with saltwater whiffing the moist air, but a couple of minutes later returned because the sprinkle turned into a Lowcountry summertime downpour. I ended the visit sitting on the adirondack chairs soaking in the coastal ambiance that is Shem Creek while the heavy rains descended.

My main objective that hot and rainy afternoon day was to enjoy a cooling beer and a relaxing lunch by the water. There is no better place than Shem Creek to do that and no better restaurant than RB's Seafood Restaurant according to public opinion and the critics. It is known for its complete package-fresh seafood, friendly service, and fair prices.

The true test of integrity is when it appears to matter the least. Even though it was just a simple lunch consisting of a simple fish sandwich, I can confirm the truthfulness of that opinion. The whole staff was friendly and engaging from greet to receipt. The food was fresh. The server was attentive. The price was fair if you pair it with the posh material surroundings and the superb waterfront view.

RB's Seafood Restaurant is open for lunch Monday thru Sunday 11:30 am to 4:00 pm and 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm for dinner Monday thru Thursday and Sunday. Friday and Saturday it is open until 10:30 pm.