So, here’s the thing. I love food. I love making it, eating it, dreaming about it and discussing its finer points. I made a decision, a long time ago, to avoid writing too much about restaurants because, well, how many times can you bore someone by waxing lyrical over the tastiness of a dish before it gets old? But in this case, I just can’t help myself. Here’s the scoop:
J and I took a little vacation to Myrtle Beach last November. One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to walk the streets, tasting our way around. We try to avoid touristy places as a rule so you can imagine our skepticism when we happened upon Art – Burger Sushi Bar, right on the boardwalk; the hub of the iconic family vacation town. Yet, it’s now January and we’re still talking about it.
Let’s begin with a snapshot of the experience. You walk in. Beautiful art adorns the walls. Something smells incredible. Despite the scarce low-season crowds everywhere else, this place is packed with locals. There is a local artist in one section of the restaurant working on her next oeuvre. Everything is art-themed. There are plumes of white smoke dancing on the stark black bar. Following this smoke are the glistening and amused eyes of fully grown adults who are mesmerized by the frankly super cool activity happening at the far end of the bar, where owner Larry Bond is weaving magical concoctions of delicious drinks with liquid nitrogen.
Then there’s the food, but before I go down that rabbit hole, let me tell you about the team working in this room.
The chefs in the open kitchen look like they are dancing or sculpting masterpieces, not working. The bar and service staff made sure that we were comfortable and happy each and every moment we spent there. They were able to mix crazy weird drinks (PB & Jam shot!) as well as true classics like Old Fashioneds. They were knowledgeable, courteous, fun and able to make suggestions based on guest experience, not sales. Meanwhile, Larry manned mission control, surveying his canvas from the hostess area all the way to the beachfront door, his busy hands never once stopping, his tone never deviating from pleasant and calm, even when directing his staff. We watched his team respond to him with the urgency of soldiers and the demeanour of old friends. This man appears to be a pillar of calm on the surface, but a powerhouse just beneath.
From the moment we walked in, we were hooked. We ended up spending most nights there, indulging in their signature drinks and late-night menu. We found ourselves in conversation with a multitude of old colleagues and acquaintances of Larry’s, who had come to check out his new place. And boy, did they have a lot to say about him. As it turns out, this enigma of a restaurateur, beneath his relaxed surface, is a mentor, philanthropist, community figure and overall solid person. Just ask him about the concept behind this restaurant. (No, I’m not going to tell you about it. You MUST go and find out for yourself.)
So. The menu. I have no pictures of food to show you because once the plates came down, I forgot my own name, so I wasn't going to remember to take pictures. First off, nothing is over 13$, except some sake and wine bottles. The idea was to keep everything affordable, making Art an inclusive place for those who want to socialize without breaking the bank. “All of [their] chicken, beef, pork and turkey are responsibly raised, grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free”, claims the menu, while offering a website link enabling diners to learn more about Art’s partnership with ethical meat farms. Talk about accountability! Could that be why it felt so good to eat there? Could it be that the integrity, wholesome sense of social responsibility and generosity with which the establishment is run seep through the walls and permeate the very air that runs through it? Perhaps. That could very well be. All I can tell you is that it felt like home, but with better food and drinks and no dishes.
Now, let me tell you about the food. Fresh meat that’s ground onsite and cooked to your preferred doneness. Burger buns that must be whipped together from magic wheat are perfectly sized to carry what’s inside and accommodate just the right amount of yummy spillage. Everything tastes great, from the waistline-friendly falafel burger aptly named Da Vinci, to the Duck-Fatty-Confit-Mushroomed-I’m-Going-To-Have-A-Heart-Attack-And-What-A-Way-To-Go Rembrandt burger. I would go to great lengths to be able to enjoy their homemade mac and cheese, or BBQ sauce, right now.
Their appetizers are generous and hit the spot, sometimes in a familiar way, like with their bang-on fries, and sometimes in an unexpected way, like with their Chicken and Dumplings.
And then there was sushi. The first food item we ordered was Name your own roll. What better way to test a kitchen than to see what they can do with your favourite ingredients? The result was our ordering plate after plate of the best sushi I’ve ever had. There, I’ve said it. We simply couldn’t get enough. Every piece of seafood was immaculately fresh and exquisite to taste. Being a sushi lover (ie snob), I’ve looked into technique and tradition around the art of sushi and can tell when people cut corners, which is often the case. I think that a traditional Japanese sushi chef would be pleased with what’s going on at Art. You can tell that they wash their rice, and you can tell that they cool it properly. They take care to create menu items with ingredients that compliment each other, not those that act as fillers. And their Out of the Box sushi items are astonishingly, painfully delicious.
And I’ll stop here. I don’t want to say too much about the menu and the drinks because part of the experience is the wonder you’ll feel over and over again as your visit progresses. I’m willing to bet the bank that the summer of 2015 will see crowds of beachcombers fighting to get into Art so that they can enjoy their crazy frozen drinks (or the coldest beer in the world!) and deserts, incredible food and the unconceited, fun vibe.
Good luck to Larry and the gang. We can’t wait to visit you again soon.