Reeling customers in with clever hook
By Becky Billingsley
If you were thinking that the TBonz Restaurant Group already had a restaurant called Flying Fish Grill, they did. It was on 26th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach and was known as a great place to take your dog, because most of their seating was in an al fresco dining area. That location closed in 2006.
This new Flying Fish is not much like the old one. The new one is a bazillion times bigger and sunnier, the menu is much longer and the market is an appealing and clever new aspect.
Flying Fish is next to the Alabama Theatre at Barefoot Landing and sits on the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway. If you remember the interior from when it was The Crab House, it has upstairs and downstairs dining area overlooking the waterway with floor-to-ceiling windows from where you can see the swing bridge, Barefoot Resort and spectacular sunsets.
When you walk in the front door, to your right is a bright-white tiled market and kitchen where you can inspect many varieties of fresh seafood. This seafood is available for purchase to take home and cook yourself, or you can look at a menu and decide which fresh seafood you'd like to have cooked for you. Flying Fish is a member of the Sustainable Seafood Initiative, which is "Designed to promote the use of local and sustainable seafood in South Carolina's Restaurants," and "...helps ensure that consumers have fish for the future by teaching our partner chefs about sustainable and local seafood..."
Straight ahead from the front door is a large rectangular bar with a custom fabricated aluminum suspension system for the lighting. It's a fully stocked bar with 12 brews on draft, and since Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery is one of the TBonz restaurants, they have the Liberty Lager, White Ale, Raspberry Wheat and Nut Brown Ale most of us locals know and love.
To the left is a row of booths with good views of the waterway. If you're in one of the dining areas you can see that behind the bar is a mammoth 110-inch projection television screen that can be easily viewed from any seat in the house. Note the emphasis on "in" the house. You wouldn't be able to see the TV from either of the screened in dining areas that are on two levels, but there is plenty to look at on the waterway.
While waiting for your drink orders to arrive, the server will give your table a complimentary serving of slightly spicy mayonnaise-base mahi-mahi spread and crackers.
There's also plenty to look at on the menu, starting with appetizers. There are a couple of regional oyster choices including Gulf Flats from the Gulf of Mexico and Blue Pointes from Long Island. We tried a half-dozen Gulf Flats Char-Grilled with butter ($9), and they had a slightly sweet flavor with crusty/crispy edges and juicy centers.
Four sushi rolls are available - California Roll, Spicy Tuna, Philly ($6 each) and the Flying Fish Roll with eel, salmon, tuna, asparagus, avocado and cream cheese ($10). We tried the Spicy Tuna and thought it had too much rice and not enough tuna. After showing a photo of our roll to genial general manager Larry Bonds, he agreed and said hereafter the tuna rolls will contain more tuna.
We also sampled a few other appetizers. Fried Blue Crab Fingers are little claws with meat attached that are battered and "Southern fried" and served with remoulade. We all thought they were tasty, and for $8 you get a generous amount. The remoulade could be a little bit spicier, but overall it's a great dish for four people to share.
Seared Ahi Tuna ($9) is barely cooked (which means it's cooked just right) and served atop a mound of delicious savory sesame oil-flavored seaweed salad. The plate is drizzled with ginger soy sauce and the fish is crusted with white sesame seeds, but the fish still tasted a little bland. That's another dish that needs to be tweaked.
The appetizer we fell in love with is the Poblano Popper ($8) that is a "Fire-roasted poblano pepper stuffed with shrimp and cream cheese, dipped in our beer batter and flash fried." It's served with pico de gallo, sour cream and an avocado puree drizzle. When cut open the filling oozed out in a delicious-looking way, and it tasted even better. One person in our party of four thought it was too spicy, but the rest of us thought the mellow heat of the mild poblano was extremely pleasant, especially when tempered by a bit of sour cream.
A few other appetizers includee Barbecue Shrimp, Crispy Calamari and Sweet Potato Fries topped with blue cheese crumbles, blue cheese sauce, diced tomatoes and red onion.
Soups ($5) include New England Clam Chowder and New Orleans Seafood Gumbo, while their four salads ($5.50-$10) are Iceberg Wedge, Buffalo Chicken, Low Country Cobb and Classic Caesar that can be topped with chicken or shrimp.
We didn't try any of the five sandwiches ($7.50-$9); they are Fried Grouper, Naw'leans Po-boy (with shrimp on a Leidenheimer's French roll), Baja Fish Tacos (that's what the old Flying Fish was known for), All-American Hamburger and Classic Chicken.
We did try The Flying Fish Specialty ($36) that is one of the Steamed Seafood Feasts. It's a platter with snow crab legs, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, one king crab leg, a couple of niblet corn ears and a pile of chopped steamed potatoes. My dining companions didn't seem to be big clam or mussels fans, so I made up for them and had my fill. They were cooked perfectly - not too juicy, not too dry. The shrimp and crabs were also served with appropriate textures, and the big two-bite shrimp were extremely satisfying.
When blue crabs are in season, you can also have 10 of them steamed for $20. A couple of pounds of snow crab legs go for $25, and two pounds of Alaskan King Crab legs are $45.
We also tried one of the Chef's Specialties: Baby Back Ribs. This is a TBonz Group restaurant, and this seafood house does some fine ribs. You get a huge rack in a perfect amount of sticky-smoky-spicy-sweet sauce. Moist and tender meat falls off the bone with the barest of prods.
Other specialties include Fish and Chips (cod), Jambalaya Pasta, Lobster Tails, a Fire-Grilled Sampler with mahi-mahi, scallops and salmon, and Barbecue Chicken. A chef friend who was at Flying Fish with his family while we were there tried the Shrimp and Grits ($15) with ham, grape tomatoes and scallions in a cream sauce over stone-ground Cheddar grits, and they liked them.
You can also get fried seafood platters ($15-$20.50), but what I want to try next time is one of the day's fresh catches ($18-$22). Fish choices include Yellowfin Tuna, Atlantic Mahi-Mahi, Swordfish or Atlantic Salmon, and you can have it blackened, fire-grilled or cooked with the Flying Fish Signature Preparation, which is dusted in corn meal and seasonings and pan-fried. Then you can pick a sauce: mango salsa, honey lime butter, or fresh herb cream sauce.
Service here is friendly and prompt, and right now while people are figuring out it's open the 242-seat restaurant is almost overstaffed. But by May 10, when Flying Fish extends its hours to include lunch, it will have 400 seats and the staff will likely have plenty to keep them busy.
Children have plenty to keep themselves busy with here. Just take sun-weary and otherwise cranky children up to the market, and the friendly fish mongers in their rubber overalls will talk to them, put on a flying fish show and/or make the fish "talk." It's definitely a camera-worthy experience.
Flying Fish Public Market & Grill is at 4744 U.S. 17 S. in Barefoot Landing, which is in North Myrtle Beach. It's open from 4-11 p.m. daily now, but starting May 10 the hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. The number is (843) 663-3474.