Chasing Down Calabash’s Correct Definition

seafoodhut

Seafood Hut, Calabash, N.C.

I first encountered calabash in western North Carolina. I worked part-time in politics, and so split my time between Calabash houses and barbecue joints. The prevalence of deviled crabs in the mountains is astounding.

But Calabash’s dominion apparently reaches much further west than south. When I mentioned to a friend here that I’d probably manage a Calabash supper on a Myrtle Beach outing, she didn’t have a clue what I meant (Hold your outrage: She’s only lived here a few years, and the southernmost Calabash restaurant I can find in South Carolina is in Surfside Beach.)

As I tried to explain it to her, I realized I wasn’t entirely sure either. Is the Calabash style characterized by its seasoning? The makeup of its breading? Or the oil in which it’s fried? I figured if I couldn’t win every miniature golf game in Myrtle, I could at least use the trip to quell my Calabash curiosity. Continue reading

MUSC Researchers Uncover New Seafood Concern

saaleha

saaleha

A toxin found in seafood may pose an even more serious threat to human health than previously believed, according to new research from the Medical University of South Carolina.

The study published this month in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology demonstrated that domoic acid causes kidney damage in mice. While domoic acid has already been linked with brain damage – sea lions who feast on sardines and anchovies with high levels of domoic acid “go crazy and die,” MUSC associate professor Michael Janech is quoted as saying in a release announcing the study’s results – the researchers say the kidney is the more sensitive organ in this case: They documented kidney damage at concentrations 100 times lower than the level associated with brain damage.

Although the findings have not yet been extended to humans, the researchers are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to revisit its domoic acid standards, which are based on brain damage concerns. Continue reading

$35 Three-Course Daily Special Debuts at The Ordinary

bildeThe Ordinary has been lavished with love since its 2012 opening, but the perpetual complaint about the upper King Street seafood restaurant is “too pricy.” Starting this Sunday, though, eaters will be able to feast on three courses for $35.

In a salute to the genre of old world taverns which lent its name to Mike Lata’s second restaurant, The Ordinary is adding a prix-fixe, three-course daily special. The meal, which will change nightly, will be available until it sells out. A press release describes it as “fun, accessible and value-oriented.” Continue reading

John’s Island Welcomes First (Partially) Korean Restaurant

Someone else's bowl of jajangmyeon/ stu_spivack

Someone else’s bowl of jajangmyeon/ stu_spivack

After months of fending off anxious queries from eaters hungry for bibimbap, Kenny Tyler is finally on the cusp of opening Sunae’s, a fast-service hibachi and Korean grill. If the planning department approves it, the John’s Island restaurant will start serving on Wednesday.

“All I hear is ‘when are you going to open?’,” says Tyler. “At the new Bi-Lo, even at the Publix on Savannah Highway, everywhere I go, it’s ‘When are you going to open? What’s the holdup?’”

Tyler says it took three months to convert the 1766 Main St. storefront which previously housed Billy Dee’s Premium Chicken; the fried chicken shack closed in 2011. After “DHEC came in and tore it up,” Tyler had to update the space to comply with current building codes.

“That wasn’t no picnic,” he says. Continue reading

A Local Sustainable Seafood Story That Predates Chefs Collaborative’s Charleston Visit By More Than a Century

David Heber Hammer's Photography

David Heber Hammer’s Photography

Chefs Collaborative, the nation’s leading network of sustainability-minded food professionals, is this weekend bringing its annual conference to Charleston for the first time. But the seafood topics on the National Summit agenda aren’t new to the city: In the 1880s, a local African-American retailer and amateur ichthyologist had already figured out how to “tempt guests with unfamiliar seafood,” a practice now considered a cornerstone of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Prior to the Civil War, Charleston’s fish market was in sad shape. According to food scholar David Shields, who generously shared the manuscript for his forthcoming Charleston culinary history, most shad were shipped north, and clams, shrimp, scallops and crabs were rarely offered for sale; Shields quotes a disappointed Duke of Saxe-Weimer-Eisenach as reporting in 1826 that “fish were not presented in so great a variety as I expected.”

Shields attributes the dearth of fish at market to northern control of the commercial smack fleet and a mosquito fleet which delivered its catch directly to plantations, whose overseers forbade slaves from sidelining in fish sales. But emancipation didn’t solve the problem of connecting local eaters with local seafood: So many men took up fishing for profit that fish populations were at risk of being wiped out. Continue reading

Yemassee Shrimp Fest Challenges Attendees to Seek, Cook and Eat

Phu Thinh Co

Phu Thinh Co

Among the most popular shrimp-related Google search terms in the Charleston area are “shrimp and grits”, “shrimp pasta”, “shrimp sauce” and “fried shrimp,” which may help explain why the American Heart Association is partnering with the Yemassee Shrimp Festival to host a scavenger hunt with a cardiovascular component.

HeartChase is the newest addition to the weeklong celebration, which kicks off next Saturday with a beauty pageant. The American Heart Association (AHA) describes the event, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m., as a meld of The Amazing Race and Minute-To-Win-It-style challenges. According to the AHA website, the competition “provides a fun, new way to promote healthy living.”

Less-healthy activities planned for the festival, which annually draws 7000-8000 people, include a shrimp cook-off, shrimp concessions and a shrimp-eating contest.

“People need to come hungry so they eat a lot,” organizer Paula Hagan advises.

The complete schedule, including location information, is here.

Why No MP Soup? Hank’s Chef Helps Crack Lobster Pricing Codes

lobster2Food writers and economists alike today were treated to social media feeds thick with links to James’ Surowiecki’s latest New Yorker column, which wrestles with the inexplicably high price of lobster dinners. As Surowiecki explains, restaurants charge more for lobster than the market dictates because people actually like paying a high price for luxury. Even though the wholesale cost of lobster has plummeted, customers still derive pleasure from shelling out for what’s perceived as a fancy dish – and the arbitrary fee gives restaurants an opportunity to frame their other dishes as relatively affordable.

What’s not covered in the column, though, is how lobster prices are printed on menus: Most high-end restaurant list lobster as “MP” or market price, whether or not the price has any relation to the market. While that coy pricing strategy is consistent with Surowiecki’s argument, it raises another question: Why is lobster the only MP item on most menus? The prices of eggs, corn and beef have soared in recent years, but it’s hard to find an MP plate of chili enchiladas.

“Lobster is one of those products that fluctuates a lot more than others,” explains Frank McMahon, executive chef at Hank’s Seafood Restaurant. “Lobsters, I’ve seen them at $6, I’ve seen them at $12.”

By contrast, McMahon says, the price of a pound of scallops might fluctuate by just one or two dollars over the course of a year.

Although Hank’s sticks to the MP convention — partly because it can’t easily reprint its menus, and partly because the unlisted price is a standard element of the traditional lobster experience, along with melted butter and a lemon wedge — McMahon says the restaurant rarely takes advantage of having the freedom to impose any price it chooses.

“I don’t think the price has gone up for a long time,” he says.

At Hank’s, two split chicks (lobsters weighing between one and one-and-one-quarter pounds) are priced at $40. The plate costs the restaurant about $20, making it one of the lower-margin items on the menu. Yet it could still function as a significant money-maker if the restaurant sold oodles of lobster, McMahon says. “I’d love to sell 100 portions,” he says. “But we sell 10-12 some nights. Other nights, we sell none.”

But Hank’s will always offer lobster, even if it goes unordered for a night or two. “We’re a real seafood restaurant,” McMahon says. “We have to have the seafood people expect.” When the cost of other ingredients becomes unpredictable, restaurants typically stop using them: Rather than list market price cherries during a disastrous cherry season, for example, chefs can just make their pies with peaches. But McMahon says he can’t do away with lobster or other popular fish, such as grouper.

“Everyone wants grouper here,” he says. “I have to have it on the menu, whether it’s local or not.”

Among the customers who want lobster, McMahon says a few of them are initially put off by the price tag. But most of them ultimately swell with the pride and pleasure outlined in Surowiecki’s story.

“When they see it’s four halves, it’s ‘how you doin’ now?’,” McMahon says.

Ted’s Butcherblock Adds Seafood Case

SL_SeafoodCase1Salmon’s been a staple of Ted’s Butcherblock since Ted Dombrowski in 2005 opened the downtown meat counter and café, selling at a rate of 3-4 sides a week, but customers have always gotten their flounder, halibut and scallops needs met elsewhere. Now Dombrowski’s installed a seafood case which he hopes will help make Ted’s Butcherblock a one-stop shop.

“On the peninsula, there aren’t a lot of places for fresh seafood,” Dombrowski says. “We put on the case and took on the same concept as the butcher side: My whole number one thing has been I need to carry the best quality I can find.”

That means the seafood case, like the butcher case, won’t be restricted to local products.

“I don’t carry any beef from South Carolina,” Dombrowski says, referring to the heat and humidity that’s notoriously tough on cattle. “I took the same approach with seafood. If someone wants halibut, it’s not going to be local.”

Still, there are plenty of fish from faraway places which won’t show up at Ted’s Butcherblock, including shrimp, catfish, tilapa and other products from Southeast Asia and South America. Dombrowski, realizing the sustainability concerns pertaining to seafood are far more complex than the issues posed by domestic beef and pork, consulted the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative before putting together his fish case.

Dombrowski ultimately settled on a line-up he describes as “basic,” featuring grouper, mussels, shrimp and clams. “I’m not Whole Foods,” he allows.

The case will also include a rotating fresh catch.

“This week we had in some really beautiful rockfish,” he says. “Next week it might be wreckfish.”

Although Dombrowski has more experience with meat than fish, he says he isn’t daunted by a whole halibut.

“At this point, I’m pretty comfortable around knives,” he says.