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Charleston burger joints offer something for us sea lovers, too

Hold the Beef

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One time, years ago, I took a half-interested boyfriend to my favorite seafood restaurant in Murrells Inlet, excited to show him the fried delights I'd been eating since my childhood. I started with a softshell crab — they were in season, it's a sin not to — and followed up with a clam basket. Hushpuppies were most definitely involved.

He ordered a cheeseburger.

Needless to say that relationship was over before it started. Now though, I kind of feel bad for the guy. Why go to a seafood restaurant if you don't like seafood? Which leads me to the question I ask myself every time my friends want to hit up a burger night at a local spot — Why go to a burger joints when I don't eat meat?

Fortunately for pescetarians and those similarly inclined, there are some local burger joints that cater to our non-meat preferences.

Here are a few go-tos:

Moe's Crosstown Tavern

If you haven't been to a Moe's burger night you haven't lived. Even I make the trek on occasion, inhaling deep burger smells as I order something that isn't, well, beef. For those of us with friends who love the Moe's tradition, there's hope for our diets, too; Moe's offers a variety of non-beef burgers and vegetarian options. We're here for the Creole Cake, made with fried crab, shrimp, and crawfish. Served with your choice of vodka cocktail sauce or jalapeno remoulade, this hefty sandwich is complex — and delicious.

Moe's owner Mike Tronoski says that after having a crab cake sandwich on the menu for 18 years, he figured he'd add crawfish tails and shrimp because no one else does. Makes sense to us. Tronoski also notes that while the Creole Cake sells pretty well, the Creole Balls appetizer does even better, which we totally recommend for dipping your toes into the non-burger game.

Little Jack’s Shrimp Burger - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Little Jack’s Shrimp Burger

Little Jack's Tavern

Best known for its beef burger, Little Jack's Tavern's hidden gem is undoubtedly its Shrimp Burger — even owner Brooks Reitz agrees. "It's the burger for the more health conscious," he says. "I actually prefer it to the [regular] burger." The shrimp patty is simple, made with Old Bay and topped with herb-y mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Pair it with those skinny fries and I promise you won't miss the real thing (OK, maybe some diehard Tavern Burger fans would disagree).

Reitz says that the shrimp burger made its way onto the menu after someone talked about the shrimp burger they ate as a kid on Edisto. The history of shrimp burgers in the South is storied; a 2001 NYT article from the Lee brothers estimates that recipes for 'shrimp cakes' "have been a part of Southern cookery for a century or more." And the burger part? Well, the Lees say we have McDonald's to thank for that: "Restaurants, takeout stands and drive-ins probably applied the name 'burger' to their shrimp patties in the 1950s in the wake of expanding McDonald's hamburger empire."

Rutledge Cab. Co.

Like Moe's, Rutledge has their own burger night (well, whole day, really), which draws the masses to consume juicy $5 patties each Monday. If your co-worker won't quit pestering you to join in the fun, might we suggest ordering Rutledge's Shrimp Burger? Made with fresh herbs and served with bibb lettuce, pickled cucumbers, and a lemon-basil aioli, it's a fresh take on the Southern tradition.

Rutledge Cab Co.’s Shrimp Burger - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Rutledge Cab Co.’s Shrimp Burger

Rutledge Cab Co. chef Andy Champion says that he's always receiving positive guest feedback about the shrimp burger, "The bright flavors that accompany it make for a light, fresh meal." As the Lees write, "Shrimp burgers concentrate the sweet essence of shellfish and complement it with semisweet seasonings." Next time you're ready to order another beef burger (no judgment, they're great) why not consider the sweet, sweet juiciness of a burger made with fruits of the sea?

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