Salty Waters Raw Bar and Grill
Cuisine: SeafoodCategory: Neighborhood FavoriteLocation: 520 Folly Road, James IslandPhone: 762-9252Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-SaturdayParking: Shopping center lotFood: ???Atmosphere: ??Service: ??Price: $-$$$$$Costs: Appetizers $6-$9; raw bar $7-MP; seafood combination towers $17-$39; soups and salads $5; seafood $14-$22; burgers and sandwiches $9-$11; entrees $14-$21. Lunch $8-$12.Vegetarian Options: Yes, if one eats seafood.Bar: Full-service bar, happy hour 4-8 p.m. daily, special drink menu.Decibel Level: Varies; local sports fans are encouraged on game days; special events with DJs.Wheelchair Access: YesOther: Outside dining tables, Ladies Night, live broadcasts, special events (such as pig and oyster roasts), game-day specials, takeout, reservations, children welcome. Monday-Thursday happy hour: all-you-can-eat oysters $18; oyster buckets $10; on Saturdays, all-you-can-eat oysters $15, oyster buckets $8. firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook
Starfish Grille closed in late May with the retirement of owner Kerry Gionis. The property at 520 Folly Road in the Merchants Village Shopping Center was acquired by Justin and Jamey Parfrey.
Justin Parfrey is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University (Charleston) and earned his shucking chops at Water’s Edge Restaurant on Shem Creek and Gilligan’s Steamer and Raw Bar. When the opportunity presented itself, this young chef was ready to belly up to the bar — the raw bar, that is.
August saw the Parfreys open the restaurant as Salty Waters Raw Bar and Grill. They kept the footprint of the previous restaurant but took down the short wall that divided the bar and dining spaces and added a wooden bar. Long gone are the pane-less window frames, taxidermied fish mounts and coastal colors.
A simple graphic design of a fish percolating oxygen bubbles to the surface identifies the raw bar among the shops in the center. The design is repeated along the rear wall of the restaurant.
The nautical ambience is minimal, and the atmosphere is one of a casual, school-fueled rivalry with a side of the sea.
The scalloped tabletops remain from the previous establishment, and the booths have been repositioned to maximize space and seating.
A large chalkboard announces daily specials, the oysters of the day and events that will be hosted at Salty Waters.
The color palette is a somber one: navy blue and grey. They strike a stormy note in a spot that is all about cheering on your home team and slurping down some bivalves.
The Parfreys take pride in offering James Islanders a “true” raw bar. They added a mahogany bar to support this concept, but it was not being used at the time of our visit.
Their seafood menu is nicely structured with a classic shrimp cocktail ($9), oysters and clams on the half-shell ($7-MP), steamed clams or mussels ($6, $8) and smoked mussels served chilled.
Create your own oyster samplers ($9 half-dozen; $17 dozen) and top them with cocktail or mignonette sauces.
The “combo towers” are fun. This take on a classic French plateau allows you to create your own platter from the raw bar offerings, beginning with a simple shrimp cocktail and a half-dozen each of clams and oysters ($17) and moving up to their signature Salty Waters ($39) with three dozen clams and oysters, a half-dozen smoked mussels and shrimp cocktail.
Cooked seafood also is available. Choose any of the oyster varieties for frying ($6), which is a nice option, or try a crabcake and fried green tomato tower ($9), though I will quibble with calling the crabcake “Maryland” style.
Salads ($5) can be topped with shrimp, oysters or chicken for $5; scallops or salmon for $7.
We began with the Down South Tower ($17): seafood icy cold and fresh. The six littleneck clams sat in a pool of briny liquor, and the Gulf Coast oysters were fat and salty. The shrimp, tender and well-seasoned, were nestled in a martini glass with a “salad” of cucumber and onion vinaigrette. It made eating awkward as you fished out the shrimp to dip into the cocktail sauce. But there was no faulting freshness, the message of any raw bar.
Salty Waters is proud of its oyster shooters menu ($1.75-$4.50). You choose any oyster and then its shooter mixture. They range from the classic vodka and cocktail sauce to the Salty Water that drops an oyster into Southern Tier IPA with hot sauce ($1.75).
Entrees are nicely priced ($15-$20) and include two generous sides. Shrimp and grits ($18) did justice to this regional dish with ample shrimp, red and green bell peppers, seared onions and spicy Andouille sausage, all heaped on stoneground yellow grits.
The portion was plentiful and the seasoning well-balanced.
Flounder and scallops ($17) did not fare as well. The flounder, ordered pan-seared, merely sputtered in the pan. The scallops, cooked to a tender finish, were disrobed of their veil of batter when they cooled on the plate, as liquid wept from the leafy greens that cushioned the fish and soaked the scallops and grilled asparagus. That was unfortunate as the asparagus were tender-cooked and grilled to a sweet char and the red-skinned mashed potatoes had nice flavor before the plate liquid created soggy eating.
Desserts are outsourced from a local bakery and include coconut cake, tiramisu, pumpkin pie, chocolate-toffee cake and a cranberry-apple cobbler. We tried the pumpkin pie ($6.95). It was presented with dots of caramel, swirls of sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of pumpkin pie spice. A soft crust and artificial-tasting topping detracted from its decent filling.
The front of the house does need some serious “fixing.” The execution of seating, serving and educating the servers about the menu was seriously lacking. Guests were informed to seat themselves, but the servers were not keeping up with the new guests in their sections.
The bartender also was shucking, so that handicapped drink service. Then when those signature seafood towers were ready at the bar, they sat. Here is where either awareness or a “runner” could expedite the raw bar service.
It is clear there is talent in the kitchen. It is in the details of execution that need a sharper focus.
If the restaurant considers itself a raw bar and takes pride in sourcing its oysters from a variety of regions, be sure your servers are not passing off “Cape May” oysters as being from Virginia. School them in providing condiments to complement the shellfish. And maybe spend some time developing a menu of beers and wines that complement your menu of shellfish and finfish.
The Parfreys are committed to success. With a smidgen of training, I am confident that the staff will know the difference between a Scorten Creek and a Malpeque, serve the creamer and sugar with the coffee, and keep an eye open for those towers, bellying up to the raw bar with expedience.
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