Amen Street channels our love of seafood
Deidre Schipani – Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar
Category: Neighborhood Favorite
Location: 205 East Bay St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; bar open until 2 a.m.
Food: 3 1/2
Costs: Appetizers $8.50-$11.95; soups $4.95-$6.95, salads $6.95-$10.95, sandwiches $9.95-$10.95, entrees $17.95-$24.95, raw bar menu $7.95-$22.95, fresh fish menu $22.95-$23.95, desserts $5.95-$6.95, lunch $9.75-$12.95, happy hour menu $5.95-$10.95; chef’s specials
Vegetarian Options: Yes, if one eats seafood
Bar: Full-service bar, specialty cocktail menu, happy hour 4-7 p.m. Monday-Friday with designated menu and special prices on drinks
Decibel Level: Moderate
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Parking: City lots and meters
Other: Happy hour, late night menu Thursday-Saturday, dinner events, split-plate fee, Facebook, Twitter, www.amenstreet.com, email@example.com, Open Table.
The corner of Cumberland and East Bay streets saw a bit of a renovation in 2009.
Richard Stoney (Crew Carolina LLC) and Keith Jones (Southend Brewery and Smokehouse, Stars) spent the better part of the summer renovating the space that was once home to the East Bay Crab Shack.
As restoration and a bit of preservation got under way, they learned that the street now called Cumberland was once known as Amen Street, a little echo of the prayerful sounds coming from St. Philip’s Church and the Methodist Meetinghouse.
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar has wisely kept the decor simple. Framed plats identify the street name’s early history. And the restaurant itself possesses a casual charm straddling the hip and homey.
Echoes of the great raw bars of the past play out in its dressed-down look.
The interior walls were stripped down to exposed brick. The bricks themselves are stratified in layers of different colors and mortar textures, each telling another chapter in the history of 205 East Bay St.
Today, you will find a well-appointed dining room with creative lighting that uses oyster shells arranged in an upside-down parasol design with filtered light cascading from this most appropriate design material for a raw bar and seafood restaurant.
You’ll also find the original cast-iron columns from the time when the building was the home of William M. Bird and Co. A bit of that metal column is displayed in the bar at Amen Street.
Reproductions of the French poster artist Paul Colin’s iconic work, “Le Tumulte Noir” (“The Black Craze”), are displayed in the bar area and soften the monotony of the brick walls. Speaking to a more contemporary era, a guitar signed by Darius Rucker and a Jimi Hendrix portrait by Ron Woods add a 21st-century touch.
The restaurant has undergone a change in chefs, with Stephen Ollard, a Johnson & Wales University graduate, now its top toque; you may remember him from Coco’s in Mount Pleasant. He has tweaked the menu and refined many of the plates with that French sensibility toward sauces and techniques.
Expect to see a roster of seasonal oysters that stretches from coast to coast. Local Capers Blades and Bull’s Bay Cups keep company with Kusshis from British Columbia, Scorton Creeks from Massachusetts and Olympic Miyagis from Washington state. All are priced at $12.95 a half-dozen, $24.95 a dozen or $2.25 each that allows for sampling and tasting varieties not pulled from our local waters. Oysters connoisseurs will be in bivalve heaven.
An order of Summerside oysters from Prince Edward Island did not disappoint. They remained true to their “salty dog” taste, and their transparent flavors came through on a wave of briny, cold suppleness braced with mignonette, creamy grated horseradish and cocktail sauces.
The appetizers and raw bar selections are varied and global.
Calamari ($8.95) is presented in long fingers cut from “steaks” of squid, lightly coated and fried. Each order is topped with the citrus brightness of lemon aioli mingled with tomato, corn, bacon and green onion bits.
Shrimp corn dogs ($10.95) remain on the menu and were a favorite of Andrew Zimmern when he visited Amen Street. Tender shrimp are treated to the ubiquitous state fair stick and batter preparation. These coastal treats are served with house made Carolina mustard, lemon-pepper ketchup and Napa slaw.
The raw bar menu has expanded since Amen’s 2009 opening, and carpaccio of tuna ($11.95), a ceviche of the day ($11.95), along with clams on the half-shell, plump steamed peel ’n’ eat shrimp, mussels ($9.95) and salt cod fritters ($10.95) give true meaning to the raw bar experience.
Salads are substantial and can be dressed with fried oysters or shrimp ($4), grilled fish ($6) or a crab cake ($6.50).
Local Charleston Bloomy-Rind Cheese is served up with seasonal greens and berries ($9.95), maintaining the local accent wherever possible on the menu.
There is a fresh catch selection in which you pick the fish ($22.95-$23.95) and then choose from three preparations: simply grilled with an artichoke risotto cake; blackened and served on a cushion of “popcorn rice,” or Mongolian barbecue style with a stir-fry of vegetables.
The “chicken fried” flounder intrigued, and it did not disappoint for sheer freshness and sweet nutty flavor. The “confit” of potatoes was nothing more than oil-poached Yukon Gold potatoes crisped by the oil on one side. Tender green beans completed this dish that was a winner all around.
Meat eaters will find a burger ($10.95) and a petite filet of beef ($24.95).
The kitchen is competent and playful. Garlic is candied, jalapeno peppers spike an herbal gremolata, mac and cheese is made with a Mornay sauce and Ollard’s French training tilts the menu with finesse and skill. Maturation has taken place at Amen Street.
Servers are well-informed, animated and engaged. They all worked together to expedite orders, pour wines and clear with equal enthusiasm.
Desserts are made in house and feature a creme brulee of the day, Frangelico at the time of our visit; a dense chocolate terrine; and berry bread pudding, all $6.95.
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar has placed its hands upon the waters of finfish and shellfish and continues to raise the bar for the salty allure of gifts from the sea. Under Ollard’s watch the menu continues to swim towards the sea gently tilted with French finesse.