By Becky Billingsley
Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, Murrells Inlet - The Hot Fish Club in Murrells Inlet has a new chef, a new menu and new lunchtime hours when quiet waterfront meals become transcendental culinary experiences.
How the Hot Fish Club in Murrells Inlet got its name is a story that goes back more than 200 years, and it’s all about a love for fresh local seafood.
The original Hot and Hot Fish Club was a social club for wealthy Southern coastal gentlemen that lasted from around 1800 until the end of the American Civil War. During their meetings the men dined on several “hot and hot” courses of fresh local fish.
Now anyone can come socialize and enjoy fresh hot local fish at the Hot Fish Club, where a hands-on staff including owners Kathy Bates and Cyndi Moran, general manager Bernie Miles and executive chef Brian Stewart are making improvements in a controlled and steady manner.
What will never change is the gloriously casual ambiance. Inside the main restaurant is plenty of room for diners at tables with fine views of the gorgeous inlet, and at a roomy bar where everyone is greeted with warm welcomes. A screened porch with several tables located beyond the dining room edges even closer to the natural beauty.
Outside are an expansive and lush lawn – complete with a children’s playground – that abuts the wildly wonderful inlet and the Hot Fish Club Gazebo. This gazebo is one of the most happening late-night party spots in Murrells Inlet where live bands perform, people dance and drink and enjoy Steam Pots filled with crab legs, local shrimp, clams, oysters, mussels, smoked sausage, corn and red potatoes.
Recently Hot Fish Club started serving lunches on Saturdays and Sundays on a large deck behind the gazebo. This is a quiet part of Murrells Inlet, so instead of traffic noise and boisterous patrons, these meditative diners are treated to flying egrets and pelicans, the occasional fish leaping out of still waters and a vista that makes for breathtaking photography.
That new lunch menu offers Crispy Calamari Steaks (sooooo meaty!), Springrolls filled with chicken, spinach, Benton bacon and Jack cheese, Lobster/Shrimp Quesadilla, and local creek shrimp made spicy in Bam Bam Shrimp.
There is also Goat Cheese Salad with eggs and almonds, and while all the house-made dressings are delicious, the strawberry vinaigrette is particularly wonderful. Steam Pots are available at lunchtime along with Seafood Baskets, Shrimp Po’ Boys, Fish Tacos, Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches, Crab Cake Sandwiches, Shrimp and Grits, Burgers and fried or grilled Chicken Sandwiches.
The dinner menu offers most of the lunch items in addition to Seafood Platters, Filet Mignon with port wine demi-glace, an excellent She-Crab Soup, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, Lobster Pot Pie, Shrimp and Scallop Pasta and Stuffed Chicken Breast containing prosciutto, provolone and spinach and served with Marsala demi-glace.
From4-6 p.m. there are Sunset Specials priced $12 such as the restaurant’s famous Onion Crusted Salmon, Crab Cake and Flounder Almandine.
Chef Brian Stewart is adding new menu items implementing local fresh vegetables and creative presentations, such as Pecan Crusted Rainbow Trout with Pear Butter, Bacon Seared Green Beans and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes; and Beef Tips en Croute that is similar to Beef Wellington but easier to eat.
Two fantastic new salads the chef is soon rolling out are one with hyper-thin pear slices, gorgonzola, candied pecans, mixed greens and strawberry vinaigrette; and Seared Tuna over greens with seaweed salad, Asian-style vegetables, wasabi and ginger/sesame dressing.
Hot Fish Club is at 4911 U.S. 17 Business in Murrells Inlet, and the number is (843) 357-9175. It’s open starting at 4 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, and at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.