It would be possible to spend weeks, months, years eating one’s way through Myrtle beach and north along the Grand Strand to find which of the several dozen (or is it several hundred?) restaurants purporting to serve Calabash-style seafood are the best. But it likely would not be fun. Too many are tourist traps where enforced seaside ambience trumps good-tasting food.
So forget an endless, bilious, ridiculously expensive pilgrimage. Eat at the Calabash Seafood Hut in the village of Calabash, which has declared itself The Seafood Capital of the World. It’s a small place, family owned, with a lot of take-out business and, usually, a wait for one of the precious tables inside.
The menu is basic, with only a handful of items for “land lovers.” But it lists all the seafood that made this town famous, including buff little shrimp, sweet scallops, creamy flounder, and substantial oysters. What makes them Calabash as opposed to ordinary fried seafood? In some ways, it’s hard to define… but you know it when you taste it.
First, the fish is fresh. Not icy, not old, but seriously ocean-fresh; second — and this is the tricky part — its coat is especially thin, lightly crunchy, gently seasoned. There is a buttery luxe to the crisp crust that shatters and melds so well with the sweet seafood within. Shrimp are the #1 headliner. They’re little, but unlike so many other shrimpy shrimp, they are radiant with sweet shellfish flavor. Scallops are resilient and clean-flavored; oysters are luxurious heavyweights, their gnarly shape meaning maximum amounts of breading; flounder is pure white and as rich as cream. Hushpuppies and French fries are OK, serving their purpose as palate-refreshers before digging into more seafood.
Calabash seafood first was served to the public back in the 1940s, when a couple of sisters in town decided to open a restaurant that took advantage of the bounteous catch and the town tradition of community fish fries. The name has spread far beyond the village of Calabash, but locals frown on all those places in Myrtle Beach that claim to serve Calabash seafood when, in fact, it’s just regular fried fish.