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Bowen's Island

1870 Bowens Island Rd., Charleston, SC - (843) 795-2757
Posted By Michael Stern on 10/24/2009 5:59:00 AM
Oysters, all you can eat! They come from Bowens Island oyster beds all gnarled and splotched with pluff, which is the oysterman's term for the fine silt that is stuck on them when they are harvested and clings to them when they are roasted so that merely touching a cooked cluster will smudge your fingers. Unlike sparkling specimens presented in a pretty pattern on crushed ice, these uglies come in clumps of three or six or more grown together in a single pluff-caked mass. They are roasted under burlap on a big smoky pit, then brought to the table by the shovel full. It is the customer's job to shuck them (easy, once cooked) with the knife provided.

To dress the cooked oysters, Bowen's Island offers only one option: a paper cup full of thin red cocktail sauce hot with horseradish and Texas Pete. Some regulars bring along sticks of their own butter, which the restaurant is happy to melt for them. The cocktail sauce recipe comes from May Bowen, who, with her husband, Jimmy, started the restaurant at their fish camp in 1946. It was an outdoor picnic then, with pecks and bushels dispatched at sawhorse tables. The informality never has wavered: eating areas are famous for generations' worth of graffiti that cover all wall space. Even after a big fire in 2006 destroyed much of the place, including its cherished oyster eating room, it reopened only few months later, serving oysters in the rough-and-tumble dock room until a new oyster dining area could be built (still to come, as of autumn, 2009).

If there happens to be an oyster frowner in your party, no problem. Bowen's Island's menu also includes good fried shrimp and really good hushpuppies, as well as crab cakes and even Frogmore stew, the Carolina coast specialty that combines shrimp, sausage, and corn.

To say amenities at Bowen's Island are minimal is an understated joke. Tables sometimes have covering in the form of newspapers; the ones dedicated to oyster eating have holes in the center where you conveniently can throw shells after you have extricated the meat from the heaps of inner tidal bivalves. The heavy kerplunk of emptied shells getting tossed into the garbage cans beneath the tables' holes is the backbeat of dining at Bowen's Island; the melody is the slurp of sucking slippery nuggets of marine meat straight off the oyster knife, then drinking down warm, salty liquor from the shell.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Oysters (All You Can Eat)
Frogmore Stew
Hush Puppies
Shrimp (fried or broiled)
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

Cooked oysters at Bowen's Island are not what most people would consider beautiful. But once you pry open a few shells and savor their briny-sweet luxury, suddenly there are few sights more beautiful than a trayful.
"Cooked oysters at Bowen's Island are not what most people would consider beautiful. But once you pry open a few shells and savor their briny-sweet luxury, suddenly there are few sights more beautiful than a trayful."
Michael Stern





Here is what you need to eat an oyster feast: a knife to pry them open, a towel to wipe your face and hands, a dab of cocktail sauce, and a hole in the middle of the table for disposing of the shells.
"Here is what you need to eat an oyster feast: a knife to pry them open, a towel to wipe your face and hands, a dab of cocktail sauce, and a hole in the middle of the table for disposing of the shells."
Michael Stern


A traditional kitchen and usual implements are not required for an oyster roast. Roastmaster Henry's essential tools are a wheelbarrow and a shovel. If you go for the all-you-can-eat deal, the shovel is used to bring oysters directly to your table.
"A traditional kitchen and usual implements are not required for an oyster roast. Roastmaster Henry's essential tools are a wheelbarrow and a shovel. If you go for the all-you-can-eat deal, the shovel is used to bring oysters directly to your table."
Michael Stern


Frogmore stew is a Lowcountry slumgullion of sausage, shrimp, corn, and potatoes, named for a fishing community on St. Helena Island off the Carolina coast. It also sometimes is called a Lowcountry boil.
"Frogmore stew is a Lowcountry slumgullion of sausage, shrimp, corn, and potatoes, named for a fishing community on St. Helena Island off the Carolina coast. It also sometimes is called a Lowcountry boil."
Michael Stern


As you might expect along the South Carolina coast, the fried shrimp are elegant. The hushpuppies, still made from May Bowen's original recipe, are cream-rich inside their dark, crunchy skin.
"As you might expect along the South Carolina coast, the fried shrimp are elegant. The hushpuppies, still made from May Bowen's original recipe, are cream-rich inside their dark, crunchy skin."
Michael Stern


Bowen's Island looks more like an abandoned tag sale than the legendary Lowcountry restaurant it actually is.
"Bowen's Island looks more like an abandoned tag sale than the legendary Lowcountry restaurant it actually is."
Michael Stern


Landscaping around the restaurant consists mostly of oyster shells.
"Landscaping around the restaurant consists mostly of oyster shells."
Michael Stern



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