Steam Pots, Bogs and She-crab Soup

Story by Lois Carol Wheatley

Just like the throngs of people who annually flock to Myrtle Beach, the food is abundant and diverse, coming from the Caribbean or New Orleans or Italy or Mexico. Spices, techniques and flavors have converged on an area that was already rich in local culinary traditions long before all the outside influences crowded in, and in some foodie circles they might call this fusion.

Your duty as a tourist is to seek out the purest flavors of the low country to get a real taste of the territory. To do this you'll sort through hundreds of enticing options. It might be an obscure eatery that serves nothing but local cuisine, or it might be just one item on a menu otherwise devoted to mainstream fare. In general you'll find the original dishes that you seek along the roads less traveled, in little pockets on the fringe of the food frenzy.

Seafood forms the basis of most low country concoctions, and it's seasonal according to what's running at any given time. Redfish and flounder are available year-round, red snapper, cobia, tarpon and shark in the summertime, and king mackerel, black bass and grouper in the fall.

The shrimp you see on just about every menu can be brought in from elsewhere or locally caught offshore in trawl nets, by shrimpers that parade around the waterways with huge overhead rigs draped with what looks like long, flowing veils. Locally, white shrimp season runs May and June and returns in August, September and October. Brown shrimp runs June through fall.

According to folklore, oyster season runs through every month with an "R" in it (September through April), which means there are only a handful of months they're not locally available. If you're lucky you might find a place that serves steam pots (sometimes called steam buckets) loaded up with oysters, clams, shrimp, corn on the cob and crab legs. You pick through these with your fingers, split them with friends, and run through big stacks of napkins.

She-crab soup is made from the roe of a female crab in a creamy concoction with sometimes a dash of sherry or brandy. Bog is maybe the only local tradition that does not involve seafood in any way. Secret ingredients of this dish may vary, but they usually include rice, chicken in very fat broth, onion, celery, green pepper, and bacon or smoked sausage. It's one of those dishes that has been simmering on the stove since yesterday and only the cook is briefly permitted to take the lid off the pot.

The term Calabash appears on Grand Strand menus, often with the strong insinuation that this is a hyper-local culinary tradition. In any event it sounds exotic, possibly Jamaican. Calabash is a small fishing community just across the nearby state line that calls itself the Seafood Capital of North Carolina. The name merely implies seafood lightly breaded and fried, not much differently than anywhere else.

The barbecue situation is pretty similar all up and down the coast, vinegar-based sauce on the east end of Mid-Atlantic states and tomato-based sauce to the west. It's possible a whole new Civil War could break out over this issue.

During the warm months be sure to stop at a local produce stand and get something plump, fresh and juicy. Strawberries start in April, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and watermelon in June, peaches in August, corn in September, apples in October, sweet potatoes and beets in October and November, collards and kale through the winter months.

Below is a long list of popular eateries, not nearly exhaustive by any means but it would be impossible to include them all. Specifically we've excluded the big chains familiar to everyone: Bob Evans, Bone Fish, Chili's, Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, TGI Friday's and Tony Roma's, to name only a few. This list travels north to south, starting in Little River at the state line, moving through North Myrtle Beach and Restaurant Row, into the thick of things in Myrtle Beach, and coming out the other end in Georgetown County.

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Terms: Myrtle Beach Restaurants

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