As most of us know, coastal Florida is lined with waterfront joints that have laminated menus and frozen drink machines: the view may be spectacular, but the food is often forgettable. These places are so ubiquitous in the Sunshine State that you might be tempted to think them universal around the country.
Fleet Landing is a stereotype breaker. The building was originally constructed in 1942 by the US Navy, and offers a splendid vista of Charleston harbor. It lay dormant after the war, was used for several decades as a storage depot by the South Carolina Port Authority, and was finally repurposed into a restaurant by a local entrepreneur named Tradd Newton. Today the 6,000 square foot structure juts out over the harbor, with the water views framed by large windows. The interior has been described as “maritime chic.” Under the direction of Chef Drew Hedlund, the restaurant fulfills its commitment to “freshness, quality, sustainability, and consistency.”
The menu is a roll call of Lowcountry specialties: she crab soup, gumbo, fried green tomatoes, the inevitable shrimp and grits, and a cavalcade of local fish and shellfish. Begin with oysters on the half shell, sourced from a carefully tended, multi-generational bed near Beaufort: firm, briny and flavorful. Don’t fret over the months ending in “r,” either – these bivalves are fresh at any time of year.
Flounder is a fish that normally wouldn’t appear on the short list of many foodies, given that it tends to be out of the water at least one week before it hits our plates. At Fleet Landing the fish is local, fluffy and tasty, delicately battered and fried and topped with an apricot glaze. If you’re new to South Carolina, try triggerfish, a firm and sweet white-fleshed variety native to the Outer Banks. And don’t leave town without sampling a Lowcountry Boil (jumbo shrimp, smoked sausage, corn on the cob, red bliss potatoes and diced onions simmered in a lager broth).
Fleet Landing’s location is serene and isolated, yet the place is a short walk from the center of Charleston’s downtown historic district. In many ways, it proves that appearances are deceptive.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. for more information, go to amazon.com.