Sunday, June 10, 2012

Folly Beach, SC: Bowens Island Oysters

I am an unabashed oyster floozy. Raw, fried, grilled, served in stew, Rockefeller, po' boy, oyster dressing...I am crazy about all preparations and my only complaint is that I am usually left wanting more. A dozen raw oysters are simply a tease. Admittedly,  I planned my latest vacation to the Charleston area after hearing from friend and food documentarian, Joe York, about an all-you-can-eat oyster shack on Folly Beach just outside Charleston. In some rare, fortuitous instance of karma, we visited Bowens Island Restaurant, situated out on a stunning marsh coastline, on what we would soon learn was the very last day of oyster season.

Piles of empty oyster shells line the parking lot next to the rustic fish camp on stilts. After securing a scenic table on the deck, we joined the line at the no-frills bar, to order our catch. Barely hiding my enthusiasm, I ordered the all-you-can eat oyster plate, only to have my dreams dashed. It was then that I was informed it was the last day of oyster season and because of that, they were only offering single servings. In a disgruntled daze, I was handed a well loved dish towel and knife and told to take a ticket downstairs to the oyster guy. 

Downstairs meant descending to ground level, below the shack, where, in an odd corner of the open basement, I found the oyster dude. Reminding me of a San Francisco bike courier with his gruff, yet hipster vibe, he took my number, before dumping a huge bag of oysters onto a metal table to wash and select for the steamer cage. He yelled "four and a half minutes" over his shoulder, in my direction, before walking away to check his iPhone. Weirdly, despite the grim location and the coarse service, or perhaps because of it, my spirits were rising rapidly.  Moments later a heaping bushel of oysters were dumped onto a cafeteria tray and I was sent, elated, on my way.

After navigating two flights of steps, with my hands occupied by the heavily laden tray and a sundress blowing suggestively in the strong sea breeze, the real fun began. No side dishes or accouterments were necessary.  When easily pried open, these oysters, bathed plumply in briny sea water, proved naked is better. Similar to raw, but with a little more texture, these steamed oysters were juicy and tender. Fresh off the boat, the clusters included large, meaty shells, baby seedlings, and all sizes in between, sometimes eight or more per cluster, many of which were camouflaged by the rocky exteriors, adding a scavenger hunt feel to the process. Two hours later, fingers shrivelled from the sea water and a few minor shell scrapes, despite the towel, I finished the last mollusk, completely satiated.

Others may look forward to SEC football or the World Series, but for me, I will take two hours of wrestling oysters, any day.  Thank heavens I didn't order the bottomless tray, although I am not saying I won't in the future!

Bowen's Island Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. Looks amazing ! That is one helluva pile of shells. When does the season reopen???

  2. Went to urbanspoon to add my review of Bowen's and found yours- great review! I'm with you on looking forward to wrestling oysters!!! :) Yay for it being an R month!

  3. Thanks Alison! I just wish I lived a little closer, as I would be a regular :)