There’s no such thing as too many good casual seafood restaurants, especially coming from Los Angeles, where there are so few. Sure, metro Charleston already housed options like The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene and Seewee, but when Richard Stoney and Kevin Jones opened Amen Street in 2009 with chef Todd Garrigan, they added to downtown’s piscine equation.
The story of the street takes plenty of twists and turns on the front of menu, beginning with: “Amen Street began as Wragg’s Alley, a small passage through Samuel Wragg’s property, running from Ease Bay to Motte Street (now part of State Street). By 1788, Wragg’s Alley had been extended westward to Church Street and renamed Amen Street. According to tradition this name was given because “amens” could often be heard from two nearby churches – St. Philip’s and the Methodist Meeting House.” Now that the history lesson’s out of the way, let’s move on to the meal.
My meal started with a bottle of Bell’s Oberon, a summer-friendly 5.8% wheat ale from Michigan that’s unavailable in L.A. Bottles and glasses in hand, we moved on to the seafood bonanza.
The left side of Amen Street’s menu is printed on a daily basis, with five types of oysters listed by origin, five kinds of fresh fish prepared herb grilled, blackened or Mongolian BBQ. There are also several daily specials. Then there’s the right side of the menu, which featured 32 options, a number of sides and desserts.
Chef Todd’s Famous Shrimp Corndogs (4 for $10.95) could easily become a kitschy classic. Shrimp were cornmeal coated and fried until golden brown. The dogs appeared with Carolina mustard sauce and tangy cornichons (called “tiny pickles”). Of course everything tastes better when it’s on a stick, and this was no exception.
Fried Green Tomatoes ($7.95) were state-of-the-art, a trio of golden discs with firm centers, each layered with Charleston shrimp salad. The plate also featured hot ‘n’ sour okra, interesting pickles that weren’t quite hot, sour or tangy enough.
Crispy Jumbo Calamari ($8.50) were especially good, tender tentacles swaddled in crisp batter, sprinkled with sweet corn, tomato, bacon and green onion. A drizzle of tangy lemon aioli completed the well-balanced dish.
Flounder Ceviche ($9.95) was an Atlantic Ocean-inspired ceviche with a Caribbean twist, strips of fresh fish treated with citrus marinade, cilantro, pineapple, “Yucatan sauce” (whatever that is) and sliced jalapenos for heat. Fried corn tortilla chips provided crunch and served as scoops. This was a colorful and effective starter.
Seafood Platter ($19.95) hosted crisp-battered jumbo shrimp and flounder fillets along with supple hushpuppies, a dish of creamed corn and a trio of complementary accompaniments: tartar and cocktail sauces and a single lemon wedge.
Flash In The Pan Pirlau ($18.95) was an interesting take on the Lowcountry classic, excellent al dente rice slicked with flavorful vegetable essence and loaded with vegetables like lima beans and corn kernels. The toppers were sweet grilled shrimp and caramelized sea scallops, plus sautéed mussels and clams in the shell.
For dessert, Amen Street offers a Key lime tart and red velvet cake, but we decided to get Baked instead.