Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar My colleague and I were on our way to lunch on East Bay Street when we literally bumped into a mustachioed gentleman on the sidewalk. Quite affable, he accepted polite apologies for the blunder and invited us to enjoy lunch at his new fresh fish and raw bar restaurant. I had my heart set on one of my favorite restaurants but my friend, always up for something new, looked at me with an expression that told me my anticipation of a certain favorite luncheon across the street would likely not be satisfied today.
Knowing of the restaurant that was formerly located in this building, I tentatively peered in the window to see how I might politely refuse the detour in my lunch plans and was pleasantly surprised to discover, gone was the fishy smell usually wafting from the establishment. Gone as well were the touristy accoutrement that came with a "seafried" restaurant: no hanging fishnets, no buoys, no plastic wall menus, and no whiteboard specials. What I saw was a full service, hand polished wooden bar, hard wood floors, solid wooden tables, handsome leather booths, discrete lighting and the only nod to a seafood establishment were the beautifully, handcrafted oyster shell chandeliers that lit the dining room with the subdued pearl-essence of the shells. I resigned myself to try something new and was led to the table by our newfound friend who introduced himself as "Gerry Cedarwall, Gerry with a G" and co-owner of the new Amen Street Restaurant.
With obvious pride, Gerry told us the story of all the wonderful structural surprises found beneath the wallboard and suspended ceiling as renovations for the new eatery began a short six months ago. Formerly nine-foot ceilings became a soaring 15 feet with exposed beams, discovered behind the wallboard was perfectly preserved red brick that is so 18th century Charleston. The rich tones of newly constructed wainscoting and paneling, done in beautiful, striped cherry wood and the black walnut cabinetry contrasts with and softens the brick to warm the clean austere lines of the dining room.
The complete transformation of the building as an eatery is even more evident in the menu recipes. Chef Todd Garrigan has brought fun and upscale flavor to the menu at the Amen Street Restaurant with a decidedly southern flare offering new facets to old favorites like Amen She Crab Soup with lobster, shrimp and tarragon cream, or Fried Green Tomatoes with Charleston Shrimp Salad with hot 'n' sour okra. Something new, but bound to be a signature favorite at Amen Street is the giant Shrimp Corndog with Carolina Mustard. This skewered treat is an enormous shrimp, lightly breaded and delicately fried so the perfect combination of shrimp flavor and the sauce is maintained. A simple, mussel appetizer is also a treat with pleasing garlic and wine broth lightly seasoned so all the flavors can be enjoyed.
A native of Boston, Massachusetts and a long-time resident of Cape Cod, I must say, I know a little bit about the dos and don'ts of seafood and Amen Street has captured the secret combination to crowd pleasing recipes which is, the very freshest product, precisely timed cooking, and only lightly accented so the seafood flavor is not buried in dressings, seasonings or batter. I must say, though, the Amen Street Restaurant takes it a step further with simple, lightly flavored sauces that serve to compliment rather than bury the flavor of the seafood.
Offering a balanced menu, there are salad, sandwich and beef selections for those unfortunate souls who are not blessed with a love of seafood. There is both cooked and raw seafood from which to choose and to insure absolute freshness of all menu items, Chef Garrigan is very particular about his "100 mile rule" which means all food selections are local produce, handpicked and fresh. The restaurant also takes pride in being one of a very few Platinum Member Organizations in serving only sustainable seafood products.
A gracious and entertaining host, understated and interesting historical surroundings, a friendly serving staff, an accommodating chef, and fresh and flavorful food provided a very positive luncheon experience. The Amen Street Restaurant, specializing in seafood, earns an admirable 3.5 diamonds and due to its menu variety and wide price range, luncheon value falls between 3$$$ and 4$$$, depending on customer preferences.
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