Reminiscent of 20th century sea-themed eateries such as Hinky Dink’s (Trader Vic’s original place) and the Chart House, Rae’s Coastal Cafe is casual and fun. Open since 1992, it looks like a tin-roof shack. Oddly nestled deep in Augusta’s well-heeled Forest Hills neighborhood, it’s a challenge to find. (My GPS would have had me driving over people’s lawns to get to it.) Interior decor is a happy hodgepodge of nautical miscellany.
Informal it may be, but tables are covered with thick white cloths and the food reveals skillful hands in the kitchen.
Rae’s is known for serving what old-timers know as the Green Jacket Salad (for the old Augusta restaurant that invented it): a well-marinated mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce, scallions, tomato, red pepper and countless little crisp croutons made from pita bread. It is a boon companion to just about anything on the menu, or suitable in full-size form to be a meatless meal . In fact, you can get a very forthright lunch of salad sided by yellow rice and black beans (this is not vegetarian-friendly; the beans are scrumptiously porky) or a tricked-up salad topped with strips of grilled jerk chicken. The chicken is marvelous, made from a recipe that Conrad the waiter assured me comes straight from Jamaica — perfumy, peppery, and allspice-sweet.
Other exotica from farther south include Cajun-spiced blackened mahi mahi, Gulf Coast coconut fried shrimp, and Key lime pie guaranteed to be made from genuine Key lime juice. But it’s the Carolina specialties that win my heart: thick and velvety she-crab soup, Low Country Frogmore Stew (shrimp, sausage, potatoes, and corn), and plump, filler-free Outer Banks crab cakes.
Among notable desserts are Kahlua-charged chocolate cheesecake and frozen mango pie that is a dense block of fruit-infused cream cheese topped with raspberry sauce.