A Long Weekend in Myrtle Beach
That means a menu of canonical dishes that Masson has adapted to local tastes: Instead of the usual "Coquilles St. Jacques," Masson prepares "St. Jacques Rockefeller," consisting of seared diver scallops with spinach, bacon, and Pernod-scented Mornay sauce. The name of the dish may sound like sacrilege but it works beautifully: And not only is Masson most likely the only chef within 50 miles who knows what sauce Mornay is, he’s probably also the only one who can prepare it textbook-perfectly. Other highlights of the menu include local black grouper, a properly heady, garlicky, and cognac-spiked escargot bourguignon, and, surprisingly for such a sophisticated dining room but perhaps in connection with its beach locale, a terrific children’s menu featuring pork chops with homemade apple slaw. Also nice: the staff is unfailingly gracious, not missing a beat even when very young guests happen to spill water everywhere and damage their mother’s iPhone (that’s anecdotal evidence, of course).
10 a.m.: The term farmers’ market evokes images of outdoor marketplaces where food purveyors display their wares and shoppers pick up tomatoes and sniff lettuces and sometimes there’s a selection of meats, cheeses, and locally grown items like wildflowers and plants and even beehives. Lee’s Farmers Market is not like that: This is a brick-and-mortar building with a ragtag assortment of gourmet groceries and deli (including imported pastrami and corned beef from Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli, a thrilling enticement for both visiting and relocated Yankees); local in-season produce (on one visit there was spectacularly fresh okra pods waiting to burst and practically begging to stew); a truly impressive array of dried beans, imported spices, and condiments; and many, many other products from hither and yon, like local honey, more than 200 types of cheese (the Italian selection is especially rich — think meltingly creamy burrata, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta di buffala, and many more), and prepared foods (the thing here being crabcakes, made with treasures previously trawling the bottom of the inlet waters across the street). There’s also a lobster tank, steaks cut to order, and vintage-looking "penny" candy. Note that nothing is precious here; while Lee’s Farmers Market is not exactly what we’d call the cleanliest semi-gourmet grocery store, what it has in sawdust it more than makes up for in selection, service, and "authenticity."
12:30 p.m.: The first thing to know about "Mr. Fish" is that "he" is really three unique entities: a funky-modern seafood shack, a wholesale and retail local fish market, and a man named Ted Hammerman. The shrewd, cheerily potbellied Hammerman, a New Jersey native who came to Myrtle Beach by way of Scotts Bluff, Neb., and then Columbia, S.C., is the classic hardscrabble dude with a heart of gold: He’s been working with various restaurant chains as a fish buyer and supplier for years, he’s invented and patented crab traps (and a french fry-cutter, too), he’s opened and closed restaurants up and down the Grand Strand, and now Mr. Fish is in business with his daughter, Sheina, a 29-year-old graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary program. Together the father-daughter team has created a very bright space, complete with vibrant sunshine-golden orange walls and handwritten giant chalkboards listing specials, in what is otherwise a nondescript strip mall.
The restaurant Mr. Fish is a place with lots of charm and gumption, a reflection of Sheina’s can-do attitude, but it wouldn’t be nearly so remarkable if the food weren’t such a pleasure to eat. This restaurant is a classic beach place with an attitude: You can get your fish and shrimp and oysters fried, blackened, grilled, or sautéed, like in any good sea shanty, but you can also get fish tacos, a "tower" of fried green tomatoes with fried shrimp, or a cup of smoky cumin-spiked chili with toothsome chunks of tuna filet. While the best dessert option at most beach joints is often at the ice cream shop around the block, here the butter-pecan cream pie served on a crust made of sweetened grits is outstanding.
4 p.m.: There are a lot of what is euphemistically referred to in Myrtle Beach as "attractions," and that term can mean anything from one of the area’s more than 50 miniature golf outlets, with themes ranging from pirates to the jungle to dinosaurs, to Myrtle Waves, an enormous water park, to the Alabama Theater, where Bill Cosby happened to be performing. Someone wanted to go enjoy a little retail therapy on the Grand Strand. Beckoning were The Hammock Shops on Pawley’s Island and a new shopping center called The Market Common right on the main drag, both of which have local boutiques. I was, of course, outvoted the minute we drove past the NASCAR Speedpark. I’d love to tell you that not having an actual NASCAR follower in the house would make you immune to the charms of this spot, but that is a lie. One of only four such NASCAR -owned "speedparks" in the country, the Myrtle Beach branch has seven go-cart tracks, a few rides (think a race car-themed carousel and a tea cup-style ride made out of oversized Valvoline oil cans), a batting cage, and an indoor arcade with the usual Skee-Ball and pinball delights. My boys were so happy.