Top 10 Historic Myrtle Beach Area Dishes
By Becky Billingsley
Visitors to the Myrtle Beach area are lucky to have many choices for sampling classic Coastal Carolina cuisine at Grand Strand restaurants.
Fresh local seafood plays a huge role, but our fruits and veggies that grow well here are extremely tasty and unique. Here’s a list of must-try dishes, if you want to dine like a native.
It takes a bit of work to crack open blue crabs and pick out succulent meaty morsels, but if you love crab it’s worth the effort. Actually, sharing a bucket of freshly steamed crabs is a fun experience.
Tip: Don’t wear clothes you’d be horrified to have dotted with splashes of crab juice.
Where to find them: Pawleys Raw Bar Crab & Seafood Shack, Flying Fish Public Market & Grill in North Myrtle Beach and Freshwater Fish Company in Conway.
Chicken Bog, a.k.a. Pilau (pronounced PERlow)
When areas south of Myrtle Beach were a vast network of rice plantations, field workers put rice in a cast iron pot along with whatever game meats they had and called it dinner. Over the years chicken and smoked sausage edged out wild game, and there are many recipe variations. In Horry County the rice in Chicken Bog is sticky, or boggy, and in Georgetown County the rice is firmer and is known by its French Huguenot-rooted name of Pilau, which hearkens back to the word pilaf.
Tips: Small family diners often serve Chicken Bog/Pileau on a specific day of the week, such as Mondays at Litchfield Restaurant.
Where to find it: Thomas Café in Georgetown, Aunny’s Country Kitchen in Georgetown, The Crafty Rooster in Conway and Socastee Station in Myrtle Beach. Socastee Station also serves Bog Balls, where Chicken Bog is dipped in beer batter, fried and served with spicy remoulade for dipping.
Oysters harvested in the Grand Strand area aren’t like the big single selects from the Gulf Coast and other parts of the United States. Ours are clumped together in what I call “oyster condos”, usually with one big one in the middle with smaller ones attached all over it. This is like mining for gold – you get tantalizing little tastes from the smaller ones, while working your way toward the big prize at the center. Local Grand Strand oysters have a delicious salty flavor.
Tips: The “likker” or juice inside the shell is also tasty – slurp it down! The oysters can be enjoyed by themselves, with a dash of hot sauce or a squirt of lemon juice, on crackers or dipped in clarified butter. I think our local oysters taste best from mid-October through mid-March.
Where to find them: A few are Nance’s in Murrells Inlet, Shucker’s Raw Bar in Myrtle Beach, Litchfield Beach Fish House and Dirty Don’s in Myrtle Beach.
The best chefs know how to par-boil and leach out collards’ bitterness, then work their magic with seasonings. If you are vegetarian, know that a common seasoning is meat, like smoked pork or fatback.
Tips: Collards are a cold weather crop, so unless the chef cooked and canned them, they aren’t fresh and local in the heat of summer. The potlikker (liquid the collards were cooked in) is culinary gold as a base for other recipes.
Where to find it: Almost any restaurant serving regional cuisine has collards as a side dish, from lunch diners to fine dining establishments.
Creek Shrimp, or any local shrimp
Local boats go out to sea for large and juicy pink and white shrimp, but a lesser-known delicacy is smaller and sweet Creek Shrimp, which are harvested from salt water creeks.
Tips: This is one case where size matters in an opposite way – small is good.
Where to find it: Go to the source – Murrells Inlet – and dine at one of the fine seafood establishments like Lee’s Inlet Kitchen, Creek Ratz or Bubba’s Love Shak.
Whether grilled, blackened or fried, you cannot beat our fresh local fish like grouper, triggerfish, hog snapper and flounder.
Tips: An economical option for sampling fresh local fish is in Fish Tacos or Wraps. Also, be aware that some restaurants, especially in sandwiches, will say a fish is grouper, but it’s actually an Asian fish that I think tastes more like catfish. If in doubt, ask if it’s locally caught fish. A good way to tell is by the price – it’s hard to find a local grouper sandwich for less than $12.
Where to find it: Many, many area chefs use fresh local fish, such as at Aspen Grille in Myrtle Beach, The Brentwood in Little River, Russell’s Seafood Grill in Murrells Inlet, Frank’s Restaurant or Austin’s Ocean One in Pawleys Island and many more.
Grits are a coarse corn meal, which can be white if the hull is boiled off to make hominy, or yellow if made from dried yellow corn with intact hulls. I can’t think of any sit-down breakfast restaurant around this area that doesn’t offer grits.
Tips: Grits aren’t just for breakfast any more! See the entry below for Shrimp and Grits to learn more.
Where to find it: Any restaurant serving regional cuisine. One of my favorite brands is Adluh Stone Ground Yellow Grits.
Low Country Boil
Also called Frogmore Stew, this is a steamed meal in a bucket with shrimp, corn on the cob, red potatoes and smoked sausage. Sometimes there are extra additions, like crab legs or whole blue crabs. Usually they’re portioned for two people.
Tips: This is a fun family food to enjoy together – even toddlers like potatoes and corn on the cob.
Where to find it: Hot Fish Club or Nance’s in Murrells Inlet.
She Crab Soup
In its classic version, this rich cream-based soup studded with crab meat also contains crab roe (that’s where the “she” part comes from), mace and dry sherry, with a splash of sherry on top to finish it. It should be slightly pink in color with a thickness to the soup that is velvet-smooth.
Tips: If there are floury lumps or it has a sludgy texture, the chef should have started over.
Where to find it: Recently I had an excellent version at Pine Lakes Tavern in Myrtle Beach, and Salt Water Creek Café in Murrells Inlet has a tasty one they serve in a teacup. At Kudzu Bakery (three area locations) they sell house-made crab soup concentrate in frozen vacuum-packed blocks – just add cream! There are many, many fine examples of She Crab Soup in hundreds of Grand Strand restaurants.
Shrimp and Grits
Back in the day when most people harvested local food to sustain them, Shrimp and Grits – basically shrimp in gravy over creamy grits - was considered a poor man’s food. Those poor people were actually dining well, and today Shrimp and Grits is a regional gourmet delight. The variations on the dish are in the hundreds, depending on the sauce/gravy, vegetables, types of shrimp, method of shrimp preparation and how the grits are fixed.
Tips: I love creamy grits, but sometimes the shrimp are served over fried grit cakes, which are also wonderful.
Where to find it: LOTS of places, but a few of my favorite versions are at River Room in Georgetown (these are River Room shrimp and grits to the right) and Tidewater Grill in North Myrtle Beach.