By JC Leahy
We took a day trip to Charleston yesterday and our local guide recommended Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street for lunch. He said the scallops were outstanding.
Outside on the sidewalk, two young women in Hyman's tee-shirts beckoned passers-by with take-out menus. When my wife and I moved to enter the restaurant, one of them accompanied us inside and assigned us to table 51 on the second floor. The place had the informal feel of a college tavern peopled with patrons of middle-age and late-middle age in pairs and threes without children. The menu was replete with seafood.
For the appetizer, my wife ordered fried green tomatoes on grits, to be followed by an entree of haddock with herbal Cajun seasoning on the side, red rice. She was surpassed and pleased to find red rice on the menu, and gave me a quick pep talk about its nutritional value. I ordered an appetizer of alligator meat, and an entree of sautéed sea scallops, and a side of red rice -- along with a bottle of Palmetto Amber.
This was my first time to try alligator meat. When the appetizers arrived, it looked like a plate of well fried oysters. The taste can be best described as evocative of bland chicken nuggets with a hint of cardboard. My wife asked me how it was. I waved my fork once and said, "Not bad. Want to try some?" She cautiously demurred. After a few bites of alligator, I washed it down with a sip of Palmetto Amber Ale. That was a mistake. The ale brought out from the alligator meat an unpleasant aftertaste distinctly like spoiled fish. I would say that if you must eat alligator meat, do NOT wash it down with ale or beer.
The fried green tomatoes were a surprise. They were excellent -- a 10 on a 10 point scale. I had never tried them before. I asked Dali how they were. She said they were very good, but a bigger serving than she could eat. Would I like to try some? I cautiously demurred. It was only later in the meal that I decided to try them, and I was shocked. Three tomato slices were served on what appeared to be baked grits with a light cheese sauce. It was a gentle, lightly cheesy, delicate combination which I would recommend to anyone.
The entrees arrived with the red rice in separate small dishes. My wife exclaimed, "That's not red rice. It looks like the cook put something in it to make it look red!"
"Tomato sauce," said the waiter. Red rice in South Carolina is a dish involving rice and tomato sauce. Red rice anywhere else is an actual type of rice. This was a communication problem. My wife had been expecting a healthy, unhulled exotic rice and the waiter had delivered something else.
Well, that's not what I want. Red rice is a particular type of rice. This is just white rice made to look red." She ordered a side of collard greens instead. I decided to stick with the rice and see how it tasted. It turned out to be so bad that I couldn't eat it. I think it was overcooked.
Dali and I nibbled at the collard greens trying to decide whether they were canned. They probably were fresh, but their preparation was very unfortunate. They reminded me of the canned vegetables that I so dislike at Cracker Barrel restaurants. The problem may have been overcooking.
From our local guide's recommendation, my expectation of the sautéed scallops was high. Around 15 very large scallops were served lightly sautéed. They were excellent and the serving size was ample.
The haddock was unremarkable. To me, haddock is by its very nature an unremarkable fish. I didn't try it with the herbal Cajun seasoning, but Dali said the seasoning improved the haddock immensely.
For dessert, I ordered bread pudding a cup of "fresh, locally roasted" coffee. Dali ordered key lime pie. The pudding with its raisins and hints of brown sugar and rum was fantastic. I think that it would have benefited from some sort of sauce, but other than that it was a 10. The key-lime pie was very nice. The coffee was nearly as good as it gets: full-flavored, smooth, and very satisfying.
I packed the leftover alligator meat and s few scallops home with me, but I left the red rice for the garbage.
Hyman's Seafood restaurant is an odd mix of the very good and the very bad. Very good were the scallops, the Palmetto ale, the fried green tomatoes, the bread pudding and the coffee. Mediocre were the ambiance, the wait staff, and the haddock. Abysmal were the alligator meat appetizer, the red rice, and the collard greens. Unfortunately, a few bad items do ruin a dining experience. To my thinking, unsavory vegetables ruin any meal. I rate this restaurant as 2.5 on a 5 point scale, and that is being a little charitable.
215 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401