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One of the newest — and hottest — restaurants on Sullivan’s Island, open just in time for prime time beach season, proves the adage that everything old is new again. While it’s true that Sullivan’s Fish Camp on Center Street is in the same spot as the former location that inspired its name, the latest restaurant from Basic Projects offers plenty of retro charm, including its throwback decor, fried-tastic seafood baskets, and tiki-style tipples.
Here are five things to know about the new Sullivan’s, which means you’ll be more than ready when you slide into a seat after a day of fun and sun (or a long day at the office, either way).
1. This new restaurant is in the same building — and sports the same name — as a 30-year island community staple.
Former owners Sammy Rhodes and Donna Rhodes Hiott opened the original Sullivan’s in 1988, which was long known for its shrimp and grits, and small beach town feel. When it came time to sell it, Basic Projects, a Charleston-based hospitality group that has also opened Basic Kitchen and Post House Inn in the area, showed interest not only in the building but the name as well.
“This was a unique situation on the island,” says Basic Projects founding partner/head of design Kate Towill. “When we first met the previous owners, Donna and Sammy, it was an instant friendship. We talked about continuing the legacy with the name, and we also talked about specific dishes that needed to remain on the new menu,” including the Key lime pie, now a dessert offering at the new Sullivan’s.
2. If you love yacht rock, you’ll love the decor.
Towill’s background is in film and set design, so she approached the restaurant’s design like a movie. Quite like stepping into the cabin of a ’70s sailboat, the dining room is furnished with lacquered wood and a seafaring sensibility.
One of the biggest inspirations was the custom madras plaid designed for the space by CW Stockwell. “I was thinking about “Jaws,” the kind of place that would exist when you could smoke in a restaurant, with stained glass details and plenty of nautical items. I didn’t want it to be too kitsch, but wanted it to be fun,” she explains.
What resulted is a fish camp idea for the modern era, firmly rooted in the community through small details. Local artist Mickey Williams created an old English pub sign for the restaurant exterior; Duane Raver, the legendary artist of the original SCDNR fishing charts, loaned Sullivan’s his illustrations for the placemats; and billiard lamps by Charlestowne Stained Glass were custom-built to illuminate the space.
But don’t expect the music playlist to be all Christopher Cross and “The Pina Colada Song.” “I do all the playlists for our restaurants, and music is so important, so you’ll find lots of variety, including some Marvin Gaye and other soulful favorites.”
3. Fried food is a thing of beauty here, but there’s lots more to tempt diners.
Having grown up on Isle of Palms, jumping off jetties and finding any bit of surf, chef Davis Hood has developed a menu that is made for beach days and casual get-togethers.
Local shrimp from Shem Creek’s Tarvin Seafood gets the “truffle fry treatment” in the truffle Parmesan fried shrimp, and there’s a mixed fried seafood basket with fish, shrimp, and oysters, as well as a solid fish sandwich. But beyond that, Hood emphasizes seasonal South Carolina ingredients, from Bradford Farms summer corn and South Carolina peaches, to a baba ganoush made with summer vegetables and a Meyer lemon gremolata.
The restaurant has been firing on all culinary pistons right off the starting block. “That’s completely because of the team we have,” Hood says. “It’s so strong and I have so much respect for them. We’re all on the same page, and we’re so excited to have opened this incredible restaurant together.”
The menu will shift according to the season, but certain standbys will remain on deck, namely the fried chicken, baked oysters, truffle shrimp, and for dessert, Key lime pie or soft serve ice cream with extra sprinkles.
4. The cocktails don’t take themselves too seriously, but they’re still seriously good.
Bar manager Jordan Moton has designed a cocktail menu that is divided between “Rum” and “Not Rum.” The latter list includes the “Pool Boy” — made with vodka, coconut water, pineapple, and lime — as well as a frozen paloma and piña colada on tap.
There are umbrellas in some of the drinks. Others arrive in glasses shaped like a fish, and the frozen offerings come with an option for a rum or mezcal floater (all nods to midcentury tiki culture). But the drinks themselves are neither over-the-top cloying nor too sweet, which helps the restaurant keep its modern edge while still celebrating nostalgia.
The Cap’n Sully’s G&T is bracing despite including watermelon, and another cocktail includes rum mixed with Chartreuse and a strawberry shrub. It’s all thoroughly modern but with a sense of humor. Drink offerings are rounded out with bright, affordable white wines, a beer list that includes a seltzer, and plenty of lighter choices.
5. Scoring a reservation can be a challenge (but flexibility helps).
Sullivan’s Fish Camp has opened just in time for prime beach season, so that, coupled with a well-oiled machine of hospitality from industry vets, has made this new spot a hot resy on the island.
There are three different seating experiences: patio tables, the dining room, or at the gleaming wood bar, so being flexible can help you get in. If you’re interested in bringing six or more people, the restaurant recommends reaching out to them directly through a form on the website.
Additionally, very little restaurant parking is available, so plan to carpool, ride share, or cruise for street parking and walk a little to the restaurant. Hawaiian sweet rolls with trout roe and smoked oyster butter can be your reward.