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.

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