According to the menu at the newly opened Cocteles El Primo in Ladson, the restaurant’s specialty is the “Head Breaker,” a simmering seafood soup with whole shrimp, octopus slices, a wedge of snapper and two crabs surfacing above the garlicky tomato red broth.
The description of the dish’s component shellfish is accurate. The translation of its name is not.
In Veracruz, Mexico, the traditional caldo is known as rompe catre, which really means “Bed Breaker.” As Cocteles El Primo owner Isaias Martinez explained in hushed Spanish, a catre is a cross-legged cot.
A columnist from Mileno, a Mexican newspaper, a few years ago went to Acapulco to interview fishermen about the dish.
“Come on Saturday,” Martinez said. “That’s when everyone comes here for it.”
As aphrodisiacs go, rompe catre is fairly labor-intensive. It’s not designed to be consumed languidly while reclining on a satin pillow. There are crabs to crack, clams to shuck and shrimp to peel, all without the assistance of tools. The soup is served with a spoon but “it’s finger food,” Martinez says, describing the seafood detritus that piles up around the talavera bowls he imported from Mexico.
Martinez spent a year renovating the College Park Road space which now houses Cocteles El Primo, Martinez’s first permanent location. For the past 14 years, he’s sold seafood preparations to other restaurants and run a mobile operation.
Asked what distinguishes his popular rompe catre, Martinez says, “This is just the best one.”
In addition to soups, Cocteles El Primo serves fried fish, empanadas, a selection of breakfast dishes, including atoles and tortas filled with egg and sausage, and the titular cocteles, or seafood cocktails in sweet tomato sauce.
Another dish that’s locally unique to Cocteles El Primo is a split pineapple, stuffed with shrimp and gratineed. For the pina rellena de mariscos, Martinez suggests coming to the restaurant on Saturday.
Cocteles El Primo, 348A College Park Road, is open 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more information, call 803-378-6804.