Thursday, June 22, 2017

If there's good food I will find it, especially along the coast

The best thing about Coastal Georgia is the easy access to fresh local seafood. Locals tend to know where you can find the tastiest places offering up fresh dock-to-diner delights. Some of these best kept secrets are nearby, tucked away off Highway 17 near Shellman’s Bluff.

These no frills diners have been around for quite some time, a testament to the scrumptious meals they place before their patrons. Some are well-known to visitors from around the world, simply by word of mouth.
You may have to ask for directions and be willing to venture a little bit further off the beaten path but the meals, atmosphere and southern hospitality makes it all worthwhile.

We stopped in and had a meal at two of these hidden gems. We also spoke to a few locals who offered up a few more suggestions within the area.

The Fish Dock at Pelican Point, Crescent
Formerly called Pelican Point Restaurant, The Fish Dock has been pleasing palates since 1986 when Michael Phillips opened the eatery that sits on Blackbeard Creek. The big draw then, as it is today, is the all-you-can-eat buffet offering up locally farmed clams and oysters, fish, Georgia shrimp and even choice cuts of prime rib, snow crab legs and scallops. The buffet also offers a salad bar and desserts.
The restaurant is currently owned by Charlie Phillips who bought the place in 2015 from his dad. He is also the co-founder and current owner of Sapelo Sea Farms, Georgia’s oldest clam farm established in 1997. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Phillips is hand picking the best clams and locally caught fish and seafood for his diners’ experience.

We visited during lunch time on a weekday. The diner is expansive and the decor is what you would expect for a place on Blackbeard Creek. The pirate and nautical theme was reminiscent of a few places we’ve dined at along the ocean in the Florida Keys.
Being lunch time, the buffet was not open but after perusing the menu we opted for an order of fried pickles and a cup of crab stew as an appetizer. For the entrée, the half-pound order of fresh, steamed Georgia shrimp was reasonably priced.

The waiter brought out the stack of fried pickle chips with a side of Ranch dressing. It was an ample order. They were lightly battered, crunchy and the perfect amount of tangy tartness as well. The crab stew was thick enough to hold up a spoon. The creamy stew was full of chunk claw and lump crab meat. It was delicious and with a hit of Texas Pete it could cure the common cold.

The view can’t be beat and customers can watch as the fishing boats arrive with the day’s catch. The buffet is only available Wednesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m. until closing, Saturdays from noon until 10 p.m., and Sundays from noon until 9 p.m. But the restaurant offers an array of menu items, with lunch, dinner and children options, in addition to the buffet.

Dinner prices range from $12.95 to $32.50 for the adult buffet. There are buffet prices for children ages 11-14 and a child buffet price for ages 4-10. The restaurant has a full bar with specialty drinks and an extensive beer selection.

Hunter’s Cafe
The dirt road to tasty paradise stops at Hunter’s Cafe on River Road in Shellman’s Bluff. This place has served diners since 1967 as a restaurant but has been delighting taste buds for even longer. During our visit our server Marie Harn says the bungalow style building was originally an old Fort Stewart barrack that was brought to the location. When it first opened in 1951, Harn says the owner served coffee and ice cream to the fish dock workers.
“And it just grew from there,” she says.

In addition to an extensive lunch and dinner menu, Harn places a hand written appetizer list on the table. The first item that catches our eyes is the Boom-Boom shrimp.
She may have noticed our curious looks and explains that it was a shrimp covered in a secret spicy sauce. We decided to try a few seafood items, as well as their version of crab stew and fried pickles for comparison.
Of course we had to try the Boom-Boom shrimp appetizer and also got the grouper sandwich, fish taco appetizer and chicken tenders. The chicken tenders and grouper sandwich also came with a side of their famous Bluff battered fries.

As we waited for the food we scanned the building. The walls of the secondary dining room and bar were covered with one dollar bills, all bearing little messages and stapled to the walls and roof.
“We’ve been written up twice in the New York Times and we’ve had customers from Denmark...well just from all around the world,” Harn says.
The fried pickles and Boom-Boom shrimp were brought out, soon followed by the cups of crab stew we requested.

The Boom-Boom looked like what you normally get when you order buffalo style shrimp or wings. But the taste was quite different. There was a sweetness to the sauce that was pleasant and unexpected. The heat was not overwhelming. Instead it crept up from behind the sweet sauce and was a flavor I had not tasted before, but knew would want to come back for more of.
The crab stew had hints of that same sweet, secret sauce without the spice. It was a little less thick than Fish Dock’s but more creamy with its own distinctive flavor notes. Hunter’s Cafe has their own unique take on the fried pickles too. Instead of pickle chips these were entire pickle wedges deep fried in a crispy herbed batter.

The crunch factor of the batter and wedge cut pickles was superior.
When ordering your fish and seafood you can get it fried, grilled or blackened. The fish tacos were made with grilled grouper, the sandwich with fried grouper.
The grilled fish tacos laid on a lightly, grilled, flour tortilla and were topped with red and green cabbage.
“The best thing is to take some of that Ranch dressing and mix it with some of that leftover Boom-Boom sauce and put it on your taco,” Harn says.
Following her advice we mixed a small batch of Boom-Boom and Ranch and topped the tacos. The softness of the grilled grouper and the crunch of the cabbage and grilled tortilla was elevated by the creamy Ranch and sudden punch of Boom-Boom.

The Bluff battered fries, chicken tenders and grouper sandwich were all delicious and nothing was left behind.
Hunter’s Cafe overlooks Julienton River. The diner sits across from the waterway and offers views of Harris Neck and Blackbeard Island. They have a full bar and a large beer list.
While dining a couple spoke with us saying we need to come back to Hunter’s Cafe as they also have the best hamburgers on the Bluff. It’s a challenge we plan to accept. They also asked if we had ever eaten at Speed’s Kitchen. It has been a few years, but we were happy to hear that the local landmark was still going strong.

Speed’s Kitchen
Unlike the name, there is nothing speedy about the food service at Speed’s Kitchen. But that is part of the novelty of this trailer turned diner. It serves as a reminder that food should be made to order and nothing that has sat under a heat lamp gets served here. They serve steak and seafood and offer broiled platters of fish or scallops or stuffed shrimp. The crab au gratin and deviled crab casserole are unique to Speed’s kitchen.

Unlike our previous two eateries, Speed’s Kitchen does not serve alcohol, nor do they accept debit or credit cards. It is strictly cash and carry here. If you truly need to have a beer with your oyster stew and combination platter then you need to bring it with you.
The we-take-things-slow-here approach is a great way to get absorbed with good conversation among friends before indulging in mouth-watering and massive servings of food.
Speed’ Kitchen is not waterfront but just three blocks away from the Julienton River and Hunter’s Cafe. The same couple then asked us if we’ve ever been to Clay’s Sapelo Station.

Clay’s Sapelo Station
We didn’t get a chance to dine at Clay’s Sapelo Station during this trip. It was still early and they primarily open for dinner service except for Sundays.
The diner which sits on Highway 17 is highly rated by Tripadvisor. We definitely plan to try it out and compare their version of Boom-Boom shrimp to that of Hunter’s Cafe. Clay’s is a steak and seafood eatery offering up seared tuna salads, po’boys, shrimp and fish tacos and even a low-country boil. And that is just part of their menu. The day we drove up they had a poster naming Sunday’s special which included pecan crusted shrimp and shrimp and fried grits, crab cake sandwiches, potato skins and a bacon barbecue burger.

The chalk board by the front door noted Thursday’s specials of local blue crab, fresh mussels and clams, flounder and shrimp alfredo.
Although still full from our previous meal, we were disappointed that it was too early to go in and grab a taste. But it is sure to be our next adventure and we recommend, based on what we’ve heard, you stop by Clay’s Sapelo Station and give them a try.
There are likely a few more hidden gems along the coast to explore. Next time you seek a seafood feast be sure you stop and ask a local. They are likely to point you in the right direction.

The Fish Dock at Pelican Point
1398 Sapelo Ave
Crescent, GA 31304
(912) 832-4295
Sunday- Thursday, noon until 9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday noon until 10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted

Hunter’s CafĂ©
River Road
Townsend, GA 31331
(912) 832-5771
Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then for dinner from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.
Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted.

Speed’s Kitchen
1191 Speeds Kitchen Road NE Townsend, GA 31331 (912) 832-4763
They have special hours during the winter making it best to call ahead for service hours.
Cash only

Clay’s Sapelo Station
15600 U.S. Highway 17
Townsend, GA 31331
(912) 832-2013
They are open Wednesday through Saturday 5-10 p.m. and Sundays from noon until 10 p.m.
All major cards accepted

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