The giant plastic pelican beside the front door is diners' first clue that fun is in store at The Sea Shanty. Owner Gary Williams and his wife Kelly also worked with a friend to create the whimsical ocean-themed paintings on the restaurant's huge windows.
The Sea Shanty is a bright, cheerful place where tasty seafood is served on Styrofoam plates, and a server calls out your name when your food is ready. The open kitchen and seats at the counter create a friendly atmosphere. Gary and Kelly Williams and their daughter Haley talk easily with their customers while they work. Moving from the grill to lift a fry basket, Gary makes weekend fishing plans with a man who has just finished a great looking shrimp burger ($8.95). Kelly explains to a couple from out of town how to get to downtown Beaufort as she rings up their check.
Daily specials are written on a chalk board and always include several fresh fish choices. Grouper, flounder, tuna, swordfish, salmon and tilapia were options on a recent afternoon. Those interested in sampling traditional local dishes can order an appetizer of gator nuggets ($6.25) or sweet potato bites, followed by Frogmore stew or catfish stew. Williams' interpretations of these Lowcountry favorites are included in the book "Stews, Gumbos, Chilis, Chowders and Bisques," a book of recipes by Jon Sans Colquhoun.
Soon, softshell crabs, shad and shad roe will be on The Sea Shanty's menu. A delicacy available starting in late February or early March, these blue crabs have shed their hard shell. The entire soft crab is eaten (the crabs are most commonly fried but are also sauteed). Shad, another culinary harbinger of spring, begin their lives in fresh water and are related to herring. Williams prepares shad roe by pan sautèing until the roe forms its own gravy. Then he adds a splash of lemon juice and serves it over toast points, "like an open-faced sandwich," he said.
The Sea Shanty has been open about a year and a half, and business is good. As the former owner of The Sea Shack and Captain's Seafood on Hilton Head Island, he bet correctly that residents of surrounding communities including Sun City Hilton Head and Oldfield would become loyal Sea Shanty customers.
The Beaufort native's friendly personality contributes to his success.
"The first time customers walk in, they're made to feel at home. The second time, they are at home," he said.
If you've still got room, the Sea Shanty has delicious desserts, including homemade key lime pie, macadamia nut cookies, brownie a la mode, and "whatever else comes to mind," Gary Williams said.