Feature: Grand Eats Along the Strand

Long-standing culinary traditions and a batch of innovative new restaurants make this stretch of South Carolina coast a charming dining destination.

By Jennifer V. Cole | Photography by Matt Dutile

Myrtle Beach has been a popular Southern destination since the 1930s, around the same time that the shag, a lively partner dance, was born here. And they’ve got the miniature-golf courses (35 of them!) and ice cream stands to prove it. But today there’s more than boardwalk hot dogs and frozen custard in this beach town along the South Carolina coast. Sure, you can still pop into the quaint 79-year-old Peaches Corner for a foot-long Bruiser (a beer-battered dog wrapped in bacon and topped with chili and cheese). But all along the Grand Strand, food lovers with a more refined palate can now get their fix. This 60-mile string of seaside communities, from Little River to Georgetown and anchored by Myrtle Beach, is hopping with classic restaurants and newcomers alike, all of which showcase the unbeatable flavors of this stretch of the Atlantic.

Southern Fare

Nothing gets your morning started quite like breakfast at Croissants Bistro & Bakery (3751 Robert M Grissom Pkwy., Myrtle Beach; 843-448-2253; croissants.net; breakfast for two, $20*). Although the stellar bakery case channels Europe (tender almond croissants, gooey apple Danish), the crab-stuffed omelets and shrimp with pimento-cheese grits remind visitors they’re definitely in South Carolina. Tupelo Honey Café (3042 Howard Ave., Myrtle Beach; 843-315-3780; tupelohoneycafe.com; dinner for two, $56) first opened in 2000 in Asheville, North Carolina. They recently branched out to Myrtle Beach’s Market Common, where you can get all the Southern comfort food you can handle: buttermilk fried chicken, grit bowls piled with eggs and apple-cider bacon, shrimp with goat-cheese grits and baked mac and cheese that could make you weep with joy.

For a more modern interpretation of the Southern larder, make your way to Pawleys Island, just down U.S. Highway 17, for Perrone’s (13302 Ocean Hwy., Pawleys Island; 843-235-9193; perronesmarket.com; dinner for two, $65). Here, prized ingredients of the area (Manchester Farms quail eggs, poussin from nearby Sumter, fresh-picked crab from New Bern) get a subtle Mediterranean twist with smart—and delicious—tapas. Don’t miss the crab tartlet, a buttery crust full of lump crab, sautéed leeks and crème fraîche, topped with a rich roasted tomato wedge.

It’s worth the short trip inland to Conway just to try the Lowcountry spring rolls at Rivertown Bistro (1111 3rd Ave., Conway; 843-248-3733; rivertownbistro.com; dinner for two, $75). Chicken, spinach, tasso ham and copious amounts of cheese are fried in wonton wrappers for the perfect bite to start any meal. The restaurant’s sophisticated—but not self-serious—twist on Southern bistro fare delivers everything from bronzed snapper with a jalapeño grit cake and corn-bacon cream to a grilled pork chop with vinegar-laced collards and mashed sweet potatoes.

From the Sea

As a coastal community, the Grand Strand celebrates the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean. From South Carolina’s far northern coast near the North Carolina border stretching down to the marshside communities of Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, seafood reigns supreme. Throughout the area you’ll see Calabash-style joints where the fried basket is king: shrimp, oysters, hush puppies. Just 10 miles up 17 from North Myrtle Beach, Ella’s of Calabash (1148 River Rd., Calabash, NC; 910-579-6728; dinner for two, $28) has been serving lightly breaded and fried seafood straight from local waters since 1950. It still operates in the original building, flush with wooden booths, where waitresses in pastel T-shirts ferry platters of seafood that was likely still swimming the day before.

In the opposite direction, across from Murrells Inlet, Gulfstream Café (1536 S. Waccamaw Dr., Garden City; 843-651-8808; gulfstreamcafe.com; dinner for two, $70) offers a taste of the sea, with the best views around. The restaurant, built on stilts like the surrounding beach cottages, has a second-floor deck with sweeping views of marshland to the west and glimpses of the Atlantic to the east. Time your visit for sunset to watch the sky blaze with the last vestiges of daylight before tucking into rich oysters Rockefeller or velvety she-crab soup. At the MarshWalk, in Murrells Inlet, a slew of restaurants flank the natural saltwater estuary along a wooden boardwalk.

Amble over to The Claw House (4097 Hwy. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet; 843-651-4415; theclawhouse.com; dinner for two, $40), a stylish newcomer that feels like a New England lobster house with Southern sensibilities. Take a seat at the horseshoe-shaped raw bar for voluptuous towers of raw oysters, clams, lobsters and crab.

Cocktail Culture

Myrtle Beach’s drink scene got a shot in the arm when The Chemist (300 9th Ave. N., Myrtle Beach; 843-445-7077; chemistbar.com; drinks for two, $20) opened last fall. The tongue-in-cheek design (some drinks are served in beakers; the periodic table decorates the floor and tabletops) perfectly complements the inventive menu, packed with drinks such as the Flux Capacitor, a refreshing mix of St-Germain, vodka, lemon, blackberry and mint. But the playful riff on science doesn’t stop with the cocktails. One tuna dish is cold-seared with liquid nitrogen, topped with coriander and wasabi pearls and served with smoking soy sauce and lo mein noodles.

For a more straightforward bar experience, hit The Brass Tap (3090 Deville St., Myrtle Beach; 843-945-1747; brasstapbeerbar.com; drinks for two, $15) in the new Market Common. It offers over 200 craft beers on tap, ranging from pilsners to IPAs to sour ales to saisons. And at New South Brewing (1109 Campbell St., Myrtle Beach; 843-916-2337; newsouthbrewing.com) you can go behind the scenes of a microbrewery that’s been making beer in Myrtle Beach since 1998. Take a free tour with one of its brew masters to learn about its fermentation, brewing and canning processes while you sample the products along the way. Really like that White Ale (the brewery’s take on a Belgian wheat beer) or the Nut Brown Ale? At the end of the tour, the taproom is open to sling pints for thirsty visitors.

The Next Wave

Although great food is nothing new to Myrtle Beach, a group of fresh-minded entrepreneurs and chefs is ensuring the scene continues to flourish. The 85-seat ART Burger Sushi Bar (706 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach; 843-839-4774; artsushibar.com; dinner for two, $32) opened in the fall of 2014, right on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk. The burgers, made with grass-fed and hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, come on a fluffy brioche bun branded (yes, with a branding iron) with the ART logo. Go for a classic, such as the Rockwell All-American, draped in American cheese with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Or step outside the burger box with one of the more decadent creations, such as the Munch (served with a slab of pork belly) or the Rembrandt (a patty seared in duck fat and topped with mushrooms, manchego cheese and Dijon mustard). On the menu, look for things such as the poke-like Ahi Tuna Bites, in a ginger soy glaze.

In May of this year, the team behind ART opened Gordo’s Tacos & Tequila (214 9th Ave. N., Myrtle Beach; dinner for two, $20) as an homage to Mexico. The neighborhood-style joint offers 50 different taco varieties and 50 diff­erent tequilas, further proof that Myrtle Beach is no longer resting on its boardwalk-hot-dog laurels.

For any scene on the rise, you need a pool of talent. Joe Bonaparte, executive director of the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach (920 Crabtree Lane, Myrtle Beach; hgtc.edu), is making sure the cooks are ready to carry the torch. At the school’s new 30,000-square-foot facility, students learn the basics as well as advanced cooking techniques. And the school has opened a 100-seat restaurant run by the students. The institute is opening a market, where folks can stop in to buy some of the school’s heritage-hog charcuterie, such as fennel-pollen salami, Ossabaw coppa, or ’nduja (a spicy spreadable salami). Visitors can perfect their knife skills or master sauce making with one of the institute’s public classes. And soon look for weekend workshops as part of their newly launched Barbecue Institute. On the patio outside the res­t­aurant, a cadre of wood-burning pits, smokers, and charcoal and propane grills stand at the ready for the weekend barbecue warriors to learn how to grill, smoke, rub and sauce like a pitmaster.

STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts in and near Myrtle Beach include:
Presidential Villas at Plantation Resort 4220
One-, two- and three-bedroom villas, plus a lazy river, an outdoor grill and a shuttle to the beach. 1250 U.S. Hwy. 17 N., Surfside Beach
Member Review: “Clean, comfortable and family-friendly.”
Plantation Resort Villas 6045
A tranquil resort set within a bird sanctuary. 1250 U.S. Hwy. 17 N., Surfside Beach
Member Review: “We really enjoyed our stay here.”
Harbour Lights 5303
Winding paths are great for biking and strolling the manicured premises, just five miles from the ocean. 2690 Harbour Lights Dr., Myrtle Beach
Member Review: “The office staff is outstanding.”
The Links Golf & Racquet Club 0446
The resort’s tennis courts, fishing ponds and outdoor pool offer ample entertainment. 917 Thomas Ave., North Myrtle Beach
Member Review: “Lots of activities for all ages.”
Wyndham Ocean Boulevard 6777
Balconies, hot tubs and full kitchens equip each unit within this art deco beauty. 410 S. Ocean Blvd., North Myrtle Beach
Member Review: “Lovely rooms and great staff.”
Shore Crest Vacation Villas II 5948
Only a mile from restaurants, movie theaters, golf and shopping. 4708 S. Ocean Blvd., North Myrtle Beach
Member Review: “We had a wonderful stay!”
Beach House Golf & Racquet Club 1532
All of the charm of a classic beach house with the amenities of a luxury resort. 6800 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach
Member Review: “Conveniently located right on the beach.”
Club Regency at Regency Towers 0014
Unplug in the oceanfront resort’s sauna, oceanside pool or hot tubs. 2511 S. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach
Member Review: “You can watch beautiful sunrises right from your balcony.” 
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
RCI® Tip
Looking to extend your summer? Myrtle Beach’s Tourism Board recently voted September and October the best months to visit Myrtle Beach, thanks to the season’s warm weather, diminished crowds and many activities and festivals. 

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Other Vacation Options:
Bay Watch Resort & Conference Center
Fronts the ocean and offers 270 cheerful rooms and several outdoor pools flanked by lounge chairs. 2701 S. Ocean Blvd., North Myrtle Beach; 800-845-9700; oceanaresorts.com; one-bedroom suites from $69 a night. Use code: EVMAG.
Camelot by the Sea
Endless amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools, a 200-foot heated lazy river and an oceanfront pool bar. 2000 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach; 800-895-3721; oceanaresorts.com; one-bedroom suites from $79 a night. Use code: EVMAG.
  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2016