A Long Weekend in Myrtle Beach
7 p.m.: It would be worth the 25-mile drive south from Myrtle Beach to Pawley’s Island just for the chance to visit one of the South’s most historic and beloved — and famously private — vacation spots. A narrow barrier island only four miles long, Pawley’s (town motto: "arrogantly shabby") has been a coastal retreat since the early 1700s, when rice plantation barons took their families (tip: a number of the antebellum homes in the historic district are available as beach rentals; for more information visit www.townofpawleys.com). The main reason to head slightly out of town, though, is for dinner with one of America’s best chefs, Louis Osteen, at his new restaurant Louis’s at Sanford’s.
Osteen is a native of Anderson, S.C., who has been making low-country diners clamor for his fine-dining versions of regional staples like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits since his days at Louis’s Charleston Grill in the 1980s. From that time, Osteen has become something of a wandering chef: after semi-retiring to Pawley’s in the mid-90s, he has opened and run restaurants all over the country, from Las Vegas to Nashville with several points in between. Firmly re-established back on Pawley’s since January, Osteen — along with his equally talented spitfire of a wife, the red-haired and sassy Marlene, who has always managed the front of the house and the wine program for her spouse — is back and better than ever, turning staples of his upscale Southern cuisine (yes, the world’s best she-crab soup is still there, as is his beloved pimento cheese, which the chef calls "pâté of the South" and is currently in development to market in gourmet groceries) and also proving that he’s one of those cooks who is always evolving and paying attention to what American diners want. I’d never expect to find meatballs on this chef’s menu, but Osteen’s veal and ricotta version ("I got the idea from reading Mario Batali," he says) are moist, tender, juicy, and served as sliders on small potato buns with piquant marinara sauce — as whimsical and lively an appetizer as you’re likely to find below the Mason-Dixon right now.
Osteen has also taken up the barbecue practice of slow-smoking meats and a category on the menu contains offerings "from a truly long visit with our smoker," the best of which are the hard-to-find, marvelously intense and gamey lamb ribs served with tarragon-mint pepper jelly (a fusion concoction if ever there was one). "Fried pies" are staples at Southern gas stations, but here Osteen takes the familiar and elevates it, serving tiny miniature half-moon fried peach or apple crescents depending on the season with locally made vanilla bean ice cream. A meal at Louis’s at Sanford’s is not only the best meal to be had in this town, but probably any town anywhere — a great way to spend a Saturday night, and you can always have a nightcap at the restaurant’s Fish Camp bar and hang out awhile; most likely Marlene will tell you everything you might want to know about Pawley’s while you digest.
10 a.m.: "There’s something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone," singer Kris Kristofferson wrote in "Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down." And there really is no better way to be alone than in that place of worship known to women and metrosexuals everywhere as "The Spa." Some spas are better than others, of course, and in Myrtle Beach in a brand new planned-urban-development complex called North Beach Plantation there is a good one called Cinzia. One of the things that makes it excellent is the "meditation room," a large solarium where you can preside in an impossibly plush bathrobe, drink a glass of (complimentary) wine while you collect your thoughts, nosh on a Dixie cup full of granola, listen to New Age music, and read the latest copy of InStyle. It’s amazing they ever got me out of there, but the siren call of an Island Hydrating Wrap, in which "your skin is gently dry brushed and then warmed oil containing vitamins and antioxidants is applied" after which your body "is wrapped while a warm oil scalp massage relieves all your tension." If you understand what that means, great; if you don’t, know that the masseuses are experienced, polite, and discreet, the products are topnotch, and the word "NASCAR" does not occur. After your procedure, take a walk on the beach.
4 p.m.: I would never advise anyone to drink and drive, but I will suggest hitting 21 Main at North Beach for happy hour on your way out of town. The brand-spankin’-new steakhouse, an outpost of the original 21 Main in West Sayville, N.Y., owned by the Lovin Oven corporate catering company, is a high-ceilinged, vast affair decorated in trendy tones of light blue-and-mahogany, and is, in general, a place that screams "company dinner" or perhaps, "my father-in-law is paying." That said, it’s not without its place: The Manhattan is icy cold, the New York strip is suitably dry-aged, and the sushi bar is generally rocking. The menu is big and not everything works; it’s best to stick to staples like shrimp cocktail over "creative" listings (who knew cream was such an important ingredient in clams casino?), but this is a swell (enough) place to drink and feel clubby and rich, and leave a sophisticated taste in your mouth that wasn’t what you thought you’d find in Myrtle Beach.