Fry it, broil it, bake it, or eat it raw. Seafood makes one mighty fine appetizer, first course or entrée. Lemon and Mother Shucker’s cocktail sauce? Without a doubt.
We may be several hours from the coast, but seafood is a preferred cuisine for lots of us who love the creatures of the deep. Most children begin with shrimp or fish – fried, of course. And then many of us expand our water-food repertoires to include crab cakes, scallops, and more kinds of fish. Finally, we realize that oysters, crab legs and lobster (not to mention caviar) are heavenly tastes indeed. Columbia has a respectable number of seafood restaurants with their own specialties. Not all are white-table establishments, but they do offer fresh and delicious morsels from the coast. Head out to one of these restaurants and enjoy!
Compiled by Greg Hardy
Photos by Sally Taylor
The Vista has long been the home for this elegant setting where Lowcountry flavors are accented with a hint of Louisiana Cajun and Creole influence (note the names of selections such as the New Orleans Seafood Gumbo and the Mahi Orleans, which is topped with shrimp and crabmeat in a wine butter sauce). Dive into the Salmon Pontchartrain, where a fresh fillet is served with blackened shrimp and scallops, finished with a mornay sauce and accompanied with Adluh grits cakes. If the mention of Adluh grits got your attention, don’t miss the house’s version of shrimp and grits, where the combination of andouille sausage and tasso gravy sets this dish apart from other special occasion restaurants. There also are crispy choices of fried specialties such as Firecracker Flounder, Apalachicola oysters and Gulf Shrimp. For an original recipe, there’s the Oyster & Shrimp Skillet Bienville: Apalachicola oysters in a shrimp and tasso ham cream sauce, served in a sizzling skillet with pita chips and grits.
Pearlz Oyster and Raw Bar
There’s no doubt that oysters are a party all on their own. But Pearlz Oyster and Raw Bar stakes out the corner of Gervais and Park with a festive flair, no matter how many Oyster Shooters are part of the shenanigans. The happy hour menu offers a fine chance to try the Grilled Mahi Taco or Southern Fried Oysters. Like lots of seafood shops, the selections of the day are offered grilled, pan-seared, fried or blackened. But take a chance on a sauce of Chipotle-Lime Aioli, Wasabi Cream or Chili Citrus. There are four Pearlz locations in the Carolinas (the original is on East Bay Street in Charleston), but the Columbia location gets its grove on with the Pearlz Upstairs Lounge, where cocktails await an evening of enjoyment while listening to local jazz and blues performers (check Pearlz’s Facebook page for upcoming lineups). And since every party needs a touch of responsibility, Pearlz makes it known that its fun on the halfshell is part of the the Sustainable Seafood Initiative.
Liberty on the Lake
Here’s a novel concept in the Midlands: quality seafood served with a waterside view, whether you’re unwinding with a sunset ending to the workday day or recharging your batteries with a refreshing Sunday brunch. Get there by car or by boat, but get there for quality dining combined with relaxing views of Lake Murray. Crispy calamari can set the tone with a citrus-curry aioli. Ahi tuna can be enjoyed either as a shareable appetizer that’s seared and blackened with soy ginger, wasabi cream and sriracha or on a sandwich that’s sesame crusted with wasabi mayo, pickled ginger and seaweed salad. Atlantic Salmon with pineapple salsa is a house specialty. For those who fancy casual food from the old country, their fish and chips hit the mark with a crispy exterior and a mild fish flavor inside.
Start a night on the town from here, no matter which end of Columbia you’re on -- the nationwide chain boasts locations in the Harbison shopping area (1260 Bower Pkwy STE A-1) and in Forest Acres (4708 Forest Dr.). Even if you’re familiar with the ocean-wide range of options on the regular menu (with selections prepared wood grilled, sauteed or baked), check the website before you go for their daily specials. Recent treats include a Bacon Wrapped Scallops Starter, Oscar Wild Mahi Mahi (Wood- grilled, topped with lump crab, asparagus, lemon butter sauce), Lobster Stuffed Shrimp, Misoyaki Chilean Sea Bass and Crab Crusted Orange Roughy. But Bonefish isn’t only about the sit-down experience. The communal-table bar area at the Harbison location is a popular spot for cocktails and to share an appetizer or two … or three (we’d pick Mussels Josephine, Ahi Tuna Sashimi and -- you know it -- Bang Bang Shrimp).
The Oyster Bar Columbia
The “oyster” part of your experience here obviously needs no introduction. The no-frills oyster bar setting has been a cozy go-to Vista destination for years. By all means, pull up a bar stool and roll up your sleeves for fresh-shucked Gulf oysters by the dozen. But don’t forget there are nights when you can get a table and take in all their options beyond steamed shrimp, scallops or Alaskan snow crab legs. The Beaufort Basket is a collection of crawfish, sausage, shrimp and potatoes served with a side of corn on the cob and slaw. Take your shrimp and grits all the way with bacon, cheese and sausage. And make it a spicy celebration with you shrimp or scallops Buffalo style -- with a side of The OBC Original Jalapeno Oyster Shooter. If you’re a fan of Mother Shucker’s Original Cocktail Sauce, you can buy a bottle to take home.
Columbia has no shortage of sports bars, but it’s not always easy to find one that caters to the seafood palette. The Wog comes to the rescue for fans eager to watch the big game while wolfing down a PoBoy (your choice of shrimp, tilapia or oyster). With a pledge to serve only locally grown ingredients and seafood from the South Carolina coast, temptations include a Charleston Fried Shrimp appetizer as well as fish tacos (choice of grilled fish, grilled shrimp, fried shrimp). Check out their Facebook page for Foodie Friday, where recent specials included striped bass seared and topped with mango papaya chutney and fried plantains; seared salmon taco with apples, almonds and pomegranate vinaigrette; and grilled mahi tacos with potato strings and mango sauce.
Palmetto Seafood Co.
This family-owned seafood market with the bright, far ocean-blue awning has been a Columbia take-out tradition for decades. It’s easy to see why it has built a reputation as a Gervais Street stop for oysters, shrimp, fish and scallops caught wild off the South Carolina coast and delivered daily. This is the place to find the crab cakes, clam strips, frog legs, catfish nuggets -- or gator nuggets -- you won’t find elsewhere. Once you’ve chosen a dinner plate option from the likes of croaker, ocean perch, whiting, tilapia, Florida bream, catfish or flounder, pick from a fantastic variety of side items (we’re looking at the fried okra, sweet potato fries and macaroni nuggets) to go with your hushpuppies, and you’ll be out the door with Southern-fried seafood as it’s meant to be.
Rusty Anchor Restaurant
Grab a table on the covered porch and boat watch to your heart’s content, while you sample a plate of calamari, or perhaps a lovely bowl of she crab soup (sherry included, of course). It’s been a favorite of boaters and landlubbers for years, and during the summer, the quarterdeck is filled with happy revelers listening to live music and enjoying an adult beverage. Wasabi fried tuna, shrimp and grits or perhaps whole crispy flounder will make you a happy camper. The Mahi tacos are yummy, too. And there are burgers if you’re in the mood. Sometimes, the ducks will wander around the docks, checking out the scene as well. There are docks for drive up boaters, but get there early. It’s a popular spot in the summer. (Closed during the winter.)