You won't recognize the interior of the old Holiday Inn at the end of the strip out on Folly Beach these days. What was once some sort of faded pink time capsule straight out the late '70s disco craze now looks like a film set for the next James Bond adventure. Iridescent neon and ultra-modern video screens blink electric from behind the bar. The spindly shards of driftwood, set like modern art against stark white walls, will make you want to take pause, but the scene out back, with a full-length wall of plate glass giving way to a breathtaking panorama of sun and surf and the Folly Pier jutting precipitously into the blue yonder, will make you wonder what the hell the owners of the place have been doing all these years. They're sitting on the finest spot to sip a cordial on the entire Edge of America.
People have taken notice. The little beach bar and windswept patio tables outside are packed with patrons, and servers fly by with trays full of wine and cocktails, little bites, and the occasional full meal. The trendy aesthetic of the place belies its true nature. On first glance, one might imagine that they've plopped down into a chic bistro prepared to dole out an eight-course meal, but the menu of creatively prepared small plates defines the reality. Blu is more South Beach than Soho, and ranks among the premier places to see and be seen on any stretch of sand in the Lowcountry.
The "tapas" style fits perfectly, and while there is no mistaking the resort aspect of the place and its prices, they're doing a lot more than just leaving the light on for you here. There are missteps for sure, like the kids' menu mac and cheese, which came out so full of raw flour and seemingly devoid of cheese that my daughter refused to eat it (don't they think kids have taste buds?). And then there are the servers who dash about inside and out, forgetting that you've been waiting 20 minutes to get a drink. But, in general, one needn't complain about the offerings or the service. It's the beach, after all, Folly Beach at that, grounds enough for a laid-back vibe.
Portions aren't huge or heavy — three of us worked our way through a half dozen plates with ease — but they are thoughtfully prepared and plated. The braised short rib ($11), so tender it quivers, rebels against its winter connotation and arrives light enough with a small accompanying tomato salad to fit in the June heat. More interesting were the "duck shooters" ($8), which don't come in shot glasses but in a little tripartite dish. The lumps of braised duck fall apart and land in a wonderful little jus just right for dipping into with the hot and crispy fried wontons that arrive on the side. The grilled hanger steak ($13) — dark and charred, sliced and fanned across a little fingerling potato salad and topped with crispy fried onions — was an instant favorite.
On the seafood side of things, they have a decent crabcake ($10), perhaps lacking some size, but pure and clean with quality crabmeat and little filler accompanied by a delicious little mustard sauce for dipping. The "pepper seared tuna" ($10) falls flat, however, with little flavor and a mealy texture. The perfectly seared sea scallops ($8) make up for all of this. They are big. They are brawny. They taste like the sea. And they're served with a perfect crust, draped over that deliciously earthy Anson Mills polenta with just enough tomato swimming around the dish to pull the whole thing together. Worthy of a two-plate order, if you ask me.
I had my doubts about a place called Blu, resurrected in an aging Holiday Inn, and obviously designed to attract a clientele not native to Folly itself, but they get it down there. If the service is slow, it's not pushy. If the food isn't perfect, it's good enough to be the best meal you'll find within spitting distance of a dip in the ocean. And if the clientele isn't exactly the mirror image of South Beach Miami, they certainly can frolic around and pretend they are.
But then again, when's the last time the beautiful people left the downtown divas and ventured out to the beaches for some fun? Perhaps the folks at Blu are on to something, and Folly Beach will never be quite the same again.