we just returned from a 6-day camping trip to huntington beach state park, and i thought i'd take a moment to report on the food we ate. i'm happy to say that we had a good trip with generally good eats, although, as always, some were better than others.
ranked in order of most to least enjoyable experience (not necessarily ranked in order of best food):
bill russells - this was our last meal of the trip, but by far the most enjoyable. we arrived shortly after the start of happy hour and were the only customers in the place. the staff, from owners to busboys, were very friendly, including an absolutely wonderful bartender. we started with the fried crab balls, which were good, but not outstanding. my wife and i both had the happy-hour special, which was your choice of 2 of 3 options (inlet shrimp, deviled crab or fish), plus side & salad. i opted for the shrimp & crab while my wife doubled up on the shrimp. the shrimp were lightly breaded, incredibly good (the only better was at the shrimp shack - see more farther down), and very fresh. the deviled crab was fine. the hush puppies that accompanied our order were pretty good, probably the 2nd/3rd best of the trip. we both tried the fried twice-baked potato balls (i don't think that's what they were called) as the side; they were tasty but a bit glutinous and heavy. while the food was generaly good, and some (the shrimp esp) was excellent, the staff (& local customer base during happy hour) here are what made the experience. it was the only place we went where we were truly made to feel welcome and not like tourists. we felt like we were in one of our regular haunts back home. 2 specials, crab balls, 4/5 beers & 3 gin rickeys + tip set us back ~$60.
prossers - we stopped here for brunch, but were too early for the buffet, which is what i really wanted to try. however, i was happy when i saw that i could order a breakfast plate with a side of bbq. both of us went this route. the bbq was pretty good, not particularly smoky, and the resto mixes it with a vinegary sauce before serving. it doesn't need any more sauce on it, but i did try the house sauces on my eggs & grits (yeah, i know, that's probably blasphemy, but i'm a yankee, what can i say). i liked both, and preferred the vinegar on the eggs & the mustard one on the grits (which were also very good on their own). total here + tip was about $15.
oliver's lodge - this was the 1st meal of our trip, and set a pretty good bar for the remainder. i'm always a fan of free things to nosh while i wait/peruse the menu, and oliver's tasty shrimp spread fit that bill. and then came the hush puppies; wow! they were good. i have no clue if this place produces them consistently, but those were the best damn hush puppies i've ever had; very light, crispy outside, tender & moist inside... yum. and they came with a compound strawberry butter. i could have easily made them my entire meal. but i (we) didn't. my wife had the fried oysters, which she pronounced excellent, some of the very best she's had. my fried fish (of the fish & chips combo) was also quite good; very tender & flaky, perfectly cooked. less successful were the limp, underseasoned fries and a very bland coleslaw. we had a nice marsh/inlet view, and this is probably the fanciest resto we tried. this is also the only real complaint (and it's a very little one); oliver's seems to be going for a little more than casual ambience, but the wait staff seemed to struggle a bit at that level, like they were out of their depth. it didn't create any problems, just a discordant note. as it was at the begining of our trip, i don't recall the total very well, but want to say that it was in the $50 range (we had a few drinks, too).
the shrimp shack (this is not in murrells inlet, it's on st helena island a bit past beaufort) - we took a day trip down the coast to visit other potential campgrounds, and ate an early lunch here after seeing hunting island. our concern with future camping trips to hunting island was the dearth of nearby restos, but after the shrimp shack i think our needs can be met. we started with a fried shrimp plate and a shrimp burger. the fried shrimp were fantastic; extremely fresh & tender. they were good enough for us to go back for a second order. the shrimp burger fared less well. trip research here & elsewhere had already clued me in to the textural issues with the shrimp burger, so i knew to order a regular-sized one (the center of the burger is kind of mushy and it's, supposedly, worse with the big one). i liked the flavor, and, oddly as i tend to be the one with textural issues, i didn't mind the softness. my wife couldn't eat it (more for me!). i think the issue comes in with which part of the name "shrimp burger" one focuses upon. my wife focused on the burger aspect, and this sandwich is far enough removed from a burger for that to disappoint/offend. i focused on the shrimp aspect, so it's burger-in-name-only texture didn't bother me; i thought of it more as a dollop of shrimp salad that had been lightly fried than as a meaty burger. more so than anything, it reminded me of a really, really good filet-o-fish (or at least what they should be) from mcds. and that's not an insult; i don't eat at mcds anymore, but when i did, the filet-o-fish was by far my favorite. the hush puppies here were more fritter-like than elsewhere, had fairly good-sized chunks of onion in them, and were pretty darn good. i liked the red rice, although it was overcooked, but my wife did not. the sweet potato sticks were just odd. our assumption is that these are a mass-produced, freezer product. gluey in texture without much sweet potato flavor, they just weren't worth eating. our conclusion was that should we camp at hunting in the future, we'll stick to the seafood baskets, skip the dinners/plates, and get a side of hush puppies. oh yeah, this place had the worst "lemonade" my wife has ever had. according to her, it was a strongly fake/chemical tasting concoction of powdered "lemonade" drinks, probably diet with splenda or something like that. the face she made after tasting it was so horrible that i didn't bother. put it this way, she ate more of the shrimp burger she couldn't stand to get the taste of the drink out of her mouth. the total here was in the $25 ballpark.
creek ratz - we finally got tired of seafood and headed to creek ratz for happy hour and something other than fish. we both got the shrimp reuben (figures). an odd-sounding concoction of spicy grilled shrimp and the other tradtional reuben accompaniments that worked well together. the fries both came with were just ok. we started with the jalapeno chips/bites/rings (whatever they were called), which were breaded rings of pickled jalapeno deep-fried; perfectly fine to nosh with a beer or two. creek ratz is definetly more tourist-oriented than the other places we went, and is a good place for people-watching, or for a bite while out enjoying the marsh boardwalk. total here wasn't much; aforementioned meals plus a good bit of cheap beer, and i think we were still in the $30 range.
lastly, salt creek cafe - we were pretty famished after a day of biking & beach play, and this, unfortunately, was the most disappointing meal/dining experience. before we even ordered we noticed the odd choice of music; dirgelike covers of soft rock (my wife claims the station id said it was light coffehouse music or somehting like that). then the waiter dropped off a glass with a few not-particularly-fresh carrot & celery sticks on the table. with nothing to dip them in and their apparent age, they remained in the glass. we started with oyster shooters, which were ok (my wife, more of an oyster aficionado than i, said they tasted like they'd been rinsed) but sloppily prepared. we followed these with three shared plates: the fried plate (shrimp, oysters & fish). the oysters were very good, the fish and shrimp just ok. the fish tacos, prepared baja-style, were fairly light & tasty, while accompanying beans & rice were just ok, although i must admit to being very spoiled by the excellent rendition served by a salvadorian place near my home. a shrimp quesadilla (a special that night) was ok; the shrimp were grilled & good, but there was too much cheese on it. the real problem (a minor one in the greater scheme, but annoying nonetheless) was the bar tab. we were there during happy hour, as such my wife asked the following questions: Q. what are the happy-hour bar specials? A. various beer & wine, plus $3 well drinks. Q. what are the well brands? A. varieties x, y & z. Q. I'd like a pina colada please? A. (served a weak pina colada). when the bill came, the very first charge was for a $7 drink. i asked the waiter about it and he tells me that they make their pina coladas with coconut rum, thus the upcharge. not one to raise a fuss when i have an out (we hadn't paid & tipped yet) i gave him a raised-eyebrow look of "do you really expect me to swallow this as we specifically asked about the drink prices". when he made no further comment or offer to correct it, i let him leave and adjusted the tip accordingly. all-in-all, too many little negative things to bother going back for another vacation meal. if we were locals we'd probably try them again, but it would be a critical visit & they would have to perform exceptionally for it to not be the last.
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