Prior to 1940, the waterfront building at 186 Concord was home to the Cooper River Ferry that shuttled folks across the river to Mt. Pleasant and the neighboring barrier islands. That year a hurricane struck Charleston and badly damaged the Cooper River Ferry building. In 1942, the tore down the ferry building and constructed the current building. The Navy utilized the building for off-loading sailors (some to the brig), supplies, general maintenance and re-supplying of ships. Around 1970, the Navy retired the use of the Fleet Landing building for good. The building stood vacant for years, until 2003, when the South Carolina State Ports Authority leased it to Tradd Newton and wife Weesie, the owners of Fleet Landing, the exciting new seafood restaurant that currently occupies the space. That slice of Fleet Landing history was lifted almost word-for-word from the restaurant’s menu. I’ll just add that Tradd Newton is a former VP of his family’s Charleston-based Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain, and until recently ran another downtown dining establishment, McCrady’s.
Upon writing, Fleet Landing has been open about a month, but you couldn’t tell from the great food that emerges from the kitchen. Walking past an elaborate entrance featuring a wall of red life preservers and a mosaic of nautical flags, we settled into a corner table overlooking the water with perfect lighting for photo ops.
I began downing glasses of just-right sweet tea and we began eating.
“Crispy calamari” came with two dipping sauces: “apricot glaze” and “spicy red pepper remoulade.” The apricot glaze added a sweet bite to fluffy strips of calamari that were very lightly fried, and very good.
Our waitress proclaimed the “Pan fried Carolina lump crab cake: green tomato & pickled corn relish, red pepper sauce” “the best in Charleston.” And after my first bite, I wasn’t about to dispute her. The cake was huge, over an inch thick, crisp and golden outside, all crab inside, with just a few bread crumbs to bind the juicy sea-meat together. And the corn relish provided good textural contrast, and the red pepper sauce added a kick. This great crab cake came topped with fried potato shavings.
For the entrees, Fleet Landing offered seven specialties, including the Low Country classics Shrimp & Grits and Shrimp Boil. There was also a section of “Fleet Landing’s Fresh Catch,” matching either char-grilled or pan-roasted yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, Atlantic salmon, sea scallops, black grouper, or jumbo shrimp with lemon-dill shallot butter, ginger-teriyaki glaze, garden fresh pesto, charred tomato vinaigrette, or blackened seasoning. Fried seafood platters feature shrimp, flounder, oysters, sea scallops, or any combo of the above items.
I went with pan roasted black grouper in ginger teriyaki sauce, which was an especially luscious hunk of fish flesh. I got a choice of two sides with my fresh catch. Charleston red rice was very light, with juicy chunks of sausage. The vegetable of the day, collard greens, was spicy and sweet, with hacks of smoky bacon, probably the best collards ever. My parents’ friend was so psyched after tasting the collards, he actually pumped his fist.
Everything was going so well. The food was great. The lighting was perfect. And then I dropped the camera, bounced the thing off the hard floor. I didn’t notice it until later, but I got a hairline fracture of my lens. Meaning every photo I would take from this moment forward would feature a thin, blurry line running from the bottom left to top right of the frame. Ouch. Still, I had photos of dessert to take, and fractured lens or not, I had to move forward.
For dessert, there were several Southern-style menu options, but only one clear choice: sweet potato pie. The tuber-rific dessert came surrounded by a syrupy sauce, but somehow wasn’t overly sweet, the slight crust was soft and buttery, and the shaved white chocolate added a nice flavor boost.
I didn’t think Charleston needed another seafood restaurant, but after having eaten at Fleet Landing, Tradd and Weesie convinced me otherwise. Fleet Landing is the kind of restaurant I’m excited to write about. And the kind of restaurant I’m excited to return to. I’m looking forward to my next visit.