Oyster_Roast at Gulf Stream CaféMyrtle Beach Area CVB

Fried food? The South is famous for it – infamous, the more nutrition conscious would argue. Well, with 1,700 full-service restaurants along the Myrtle Beach area, there are plenty more options.
“There’s been a revolution in cooking in the last decade or so,’’ says CVB’s Kimberly Miles. “A lot of young professional chefs are putting a more modern spin on traditional country dishes.”

 Carolina CoastalCuisineMyrtle Beach Area CVB“Carolina Coastal” is how this culinary genre is often described. One of the most interesting spots to experience it is Murrells Inlet, seafood capital of South Carolina, 25 minutes’ drive south of central Myrtle Beach. Murrells Inlet is in the heart of the Low Country. Chefs there use local ingredients like Carolina rice, stone-ground grits, shrimp, blue crab, grouper and country ham in traditional recipes handed down from the local Gullah community.

The Gullah are African-Americans descended from slaves brought to the southern colonies in the early 18th century, specifically for their ability to cultivate rice. Most of their foods are stewed, grilled or roasted; very little is fried.

There’s also a trend to “more fresh, more local,’’ Kimberly adds. In fact the South Carolina Hospitality Alliance has created a “fresh on the menu’’ designation for restaurants. To qualify, a least 25 per cent of the ingredients have to be locally grown. That’s easy in an area known for its fresh local seafood, rice, grits, sweet potatoes, peaches and berries.

Still hanker for fried? At the northern end of the Grand Strand, a half-hour’s drive from central Myrtle Beach, Calabash reigns supreme. Named for a town just over the North Carolina border, its focus is fried seafood. Calabash buffets – the most famous is the Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood – line Highway 17 for miles. For dessert? The hell with the diet: head for the beach for funnel cakes – a dough fried with powdered sugar on top.

Beyond The Plate
Want to learn more about local food? Check these out:
Hyman Vineyards is a natural products company based on an historic farm that grows naturally sweet indigenous muscadine grapes for both medicinal and consumption purposes.
Grand Strand Culinary Tours range from a simple traditional lunch in Myrtle Beach to a walking adventure in Historic Downtown Conway.
The Brentwood Restaurant and Wine Bar teaches the art of French cooking; Horry-Georgetown Technical College offers ongoing culinary classes ranging from chocolate making to beer pairing; as does Kitchen Capers Culinary Techniques and Cooking School.
Culinary journalist Becky Billingsley looks at the area’s restaurants, chefs and cuisine at www.MyrtleBeachRestaurantNews.com. To find which restaurants serve a particular type of cuisine, visit www.GrandStrandRestaurants.com.

Every May, Little River hosts the Blue Crab Festival, a weekend of live music, arts and crafts, seafaring culture and, of course, sweet blue crab. On Labour Day weekend, the Beach, Boogie & BBQ Festival features the official barbecue competition of South Carolina, live entertainment and Kids Zone. In early October, the Shrimp & Jazz Festival in Little River combines the live jazz and local shrimp. Also in October, Loris hosts the annual Bog Off, a competition to determine the best Chicken bog – a spicy blend of rice, chicken sausage, onion and black pepper. Chicken bog has been described this way: “…looks as if the cook went on a binge the night before, but legend has it one Yankee officer liked it so much he switched uniforms.’’ In November, there’s an all-you-can-eat afternoon of steamed oysters at the Murrells Inlet Annual Oyster Roast. For these and other culinary events, visit www.grandstrandevents.com.

What’s New
Coastal Uncorked showcases local chefs and local cuisine. Visitors can hop aboard a tasting trolley to sample food and do beer, wine and spirit tastings. Many stops offer live entertainment and cooking demonstrations. Coastal Uncorked encompasses Restaurant Week, Wine Around Myrtle Beach, outdoor entertainment, the Coastal Uncorked Golf Tournament and the Coastal Uncorked Food Fight Chef Competition and Gala. Next year’s festival runs May 8 to 15. Visit www.coastaluncorked.com.

For more culinary information, visit www.VisitMyrtleBeach.ca.