That being said, as a small town coastal native, I feel like I've lived on the island for many moons, and most weekends this proud homebody is perfectly happy never leaving my five mile radius — I've got Low Tide, Seanachai, Wild Olive, Southern General, and Fat Hen just to name a few. So when I saw the Royal Tern being built inside my mini empire, I was admittedly a bit skeptical.
Location Details The Royal Tern
Whether the place turned out to be an amazing addition or a half-assed 'modern American' vanilla bean, it meant more traffic, more sudden brake lights on very dark shoulder-less roads, and more noise on what's left of the quiet island (I wake up to roosters, y'all). Every morning I looked at the new (beautiful) building as I craned my neck to turn left on Maybank Highway to start my morning commute and thought, 'well, shit.'
The Royal Tern (3005 Maybank Highway) opened in late December — there was no big announcement or PR deluge. To be quite honest, I had a helluva time getting in touch with anyone there.
But you gotta respect the quiet slide into service, downplaying what was already the talk of the island. I drove by night after night, admiring the lantern hung from the rafters, always flickering. Last week, on Thursday night, I finally made my move.
- Mary Scott Hardaway
- If the menu includes a Hemingway quote from A Moveable Feast about oysters and white wine...you order oysters and white wine
I ordered the Wolfe Martini because I'm nothing if not a creature of habit, and asked the bartender for guidance on the oysters — when the oyster shucker is doing the damn thing in front of you, you have to get oysters.
They come raw on the halfshell and in four hot choices — wood grilled with garlic butter, parmesan, and lemon; Kilpatrick with bacon, Worcestershire, and charred leeks; Royal Tern-style with tomato, bacon, cream, and spinach; and fried with creole butter and pecorino.
I went with a single raw oyster because I'm balling very hard on a budget (and the "market" menu notation scares the living daylights out of me), and of course the Toogoodoo bivalve (harvested right up the road) only set me back a couple of bucks. Next time, a half-dozen will be in order.
- Mary Scott Hardaway
- Wood-grilled oysters and my fingers
A diehard Hemingway fanatic, the quote (A Moveable Feast, btw) made me abandon any notions of asceticism. "I'll take the wood grilled oysters and a glass of Gruner Veltliner, thanks!" The $12 plate was gone in a minute, but would certainly buy again.
As the restaurant filled up, both the bar and dining room, I got a sense of the clientele. Yes, lots of Range Rovin' JI'ers, the ones who measure their property in on acres, with gates guarding their mini manses. And yes, I overheard more conversations about real estate than I've ever been party to, if that tells you anything. But there was also me, alone at the bar with a book, and lots of other people like me, the kind who don't necessarily have money to spend at a raw bar on a random weekday, but love the hell out of good food and good service.
It's not a leggings-and-flannel Low Tide crowd (my preferred sartorial leaning), and it's not a family-style joint like Fat Hen, where we always take our parents. It's something in between, a shiny pearl, bright and new.
As the sweet bartender quickly poured me one final glass of the crisp white, I began to make plans to come here again. Very, very soon.
Teaser image via The Royal Tern Facebook.