When visiting the beautiful South Carolina Grand Strand on your next vacation, golf, or boating trip you will undoubtedly encounter many restaurants heralding their “World Famous Calabash Style Seafood.”
Just drive down Kings Highway/Business 17 in Myrtle Beach along the famed “Restaurant Row” and you are sure to see a stream of restaurants offering Calabash seafood and lots of it. Calabash-style fare attracts seafood lovers from all over the land to taste its unique combination of freshness and flavor. But what exactly is Calabash seafood? Calabash seafood had its beginnings in the sleepy little fishing village of Calabash North Carolina, not South Carolina where Myrtle Beach is situated. It’s located just across the border and just minutes away from downtown North Myrtle Beach, in Brunswick County, and bills itself as the “Seafood Capital of the World.” North Carolina is celebrated for its bountiful fresh seafood that’s harvested daily from coastal waters by the state’s commercial fishing fleet. And Calabash-style cooking consists of freshly caught fish, shrimp, crab, and locally harvested oysters, clams, and mussels prepared lightly breaded and fried and typically served buffet style. The fare is prepared using a batter composed of eggs, minced celery, minced garlic, and Cajun seasoning all mixed with cornmeal instead of flour to give the seafood just a light coating. Then it is fried in hot oil until it becomes golden brown. One of the most popular Calabash offerings that doesn’t come from the sea, however, is the hushpuppies that always accompany the seafood. The tasty side dish is made from the same batter used to coat the seafood then dropped by rounded tablespoonfuls, golf ball size, into the hot oil. Later, they are plucked, sizzling hot, from the deep fryer and served by the basket load along with a generous portion of honey butter for dipping. But don’t fill up on these melt-in-your-mouth appetizers beforehand, because a bounty of Calabash seafood awaits you for your main course. So, when visiting the Grand Strand area, you have got to give Calabash-style seafood a try. You will be glad you did.
Here are five great places in the Myrtle Beach area to find luscious Calabash-style seafood:
• Benjamin’s Calabash: This outfit sails under two banners — Captain Benjamin’s on South Kings Highway in downtown Myrtle Beach and Original Benjamin’s on North Kings Highway’s Restaurant Row.
• Bennett’s Calabash: Another big name in Calabash cooking, Bennett’s has three restaurants on the Grand Strand.
• Crabby Mike’s: If you find yourself on the south side of Surfside Beach, this Calabash-style buffet is worth checking out.
• Ella’s of Calabash: The approximately 1,800 residents of Calabash claim their town is the only place to get true Calabash fare, and most of them can be found chowing down at this local institution.
• Sea Captain’s House: If you prefer quality over quantity, forgo the buffet and instead opt for dinner at Myrtle Beach’s most famous seafood restaurant. Serving southern-style seafood in an oceanfront setting, the Sea Captain’s House has been featured in national publications for its food and charm.
Here are some historical facts concerning the origins of the town that inspired the name of the delicious fare. Calabash derived its name from a fruit that grows in the area, a gourd that residents once harvested, dried, cleaned, cut out, and waxed to form drinking vessels. And it was not until the 1930s that the town of approximately 700 residents began to become known for its fabulous fried seafood. Subsequently, today it boasts dozens of seafood restaurants enjoyed by thousands of tourists and residents alike.
The town was initially part of a 48,000-acre grant to Landgrave Thomas Smith in 1691, who was a county nobleman in the original Carolina colony. The area was once known as Little River and later, during the late 1800s, Calabash developed into a leading area of commerce and became known as Pea Landing in the late 1800s due to the nearby cultivation of peanuts. The ocean and nearby river were the primary sources of most of the local’s food, while the surrounding fields grew thick with peanuts and indigo that was shipped to Wilmington. Consequently, so many peas were shipped from the dock near present-day Capt. John’s Seafood Restaurant in the area that became known as Pea Landing. Then in 1883, citizens petitioned the government for a post office at Pea Landing and provided the postal service with the name Calabash for the post office site name. At that time the World War II years saw Calabash restaurants opening and serving seafood cooked with a special flavor and this was the birth of Calabash seafood.
Today the town is a popular tourist area, with an abundance of fine restaurants, shops, golf courses, salons, unique gift stores, retail shops, mini golf courses, and ice cream parlors, as well as a fleet of shrimp boats, charter fishing boats, and stunning views of the Calabash River. Officially known as the Town of Calabash. The small coastal city, Seafood Capital of the World, has plenty of reason to support its claim because not only does Calabash boast more than 30 seafood restaurants amid a permanent population of just over 2,000, but there are Calabash-style restaurants known for the lightly battered and deep-fried tradition of cooking through-out the U.S. A fun fact, according to local legend, is that popular 1940s radio and TV personality Jimmy Durante got his famous catch phrase “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are” from his frequent visits to the seaport town.
Besides the seafood restaurants, shops, and amazing climate, tourists come for the two local beaches, Sunset Beach and Holden Beach, eight championship golf courses and a waterfront marina whose fleet of boats is renowned for its large hauls of fish, shrimp, and crab. Calabash has been synonymous with seafood and family fun for decades. And If do-it-yourself is your style, you can reel in your own catch aboard a chartered deep-sea fishing boat, or simply observe the fishing boats come to dock and maybe even share in their fresh catch to cook up yourself.
Although Calabash has a rich history that dates to 1691, the tiny fishing village didn’t incorporate until 1973. And the period since has seen modern growth, including new homes and condo developments along the coast, and the aforementioned world-class golf courses, restaurants, shopping, and other businesses along the Highway 17 corridor.
The town of Calabash doesn’t have its own commercial airport. So, the best way to travel there is via aircraft into Myrtle Beach International Airport then bus, car, or hired ground transportation to Calabash. And should you choose to travel via watercraft, the GPS Latitude and longitude coordinates are 33.890892, -78.567528.