With an ideal location that funnels the foot traffic of tourists from the City Market and Union Pier, the Noisy Oyster is uniquely positioned as the gateway to satisfying an appetite for seafood.
Angled on the corner of Market and East Bay streets, its wall of garage-door windows presents diners with great vistas of the promenades of commerce on the Peninsula.
Wade Boals and his partner, Brett Yearout, established the Noisy Oyster in 1992. The two also operate a second Noisy Oyster in North Charleston and Big Billy’s Burger Joint in the McCall Center.
Boals is a fourth-generation restaurateur. Ronnie Boals, his father, opened one of Mount Pleasant’s first restaurants, The Trawler in 1967, when the population of Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms numbered about 7,000 full-time residents and the Grace Memorial Bridge and the Silas N. Pearman Bridge carried traffic East of the Cooper.
The senior Boals started his career at his uncle’s Piggie Park Drive-In and his mother is kin to the Bessinger family of barbecue fame. Wade grew up in the business and started in the kitchen like his father before him.
He not only brought that invaluable training with him to the Noisy Oyster but family recipes as well, such as the crab dip, seafood steam pot, and Lowcountry fish stew.
True to form, the garlic dill pickles are cured in-house; the salad dressings are homemade and Angie Brown’s desserts are the sweet finish to any Noisy Oyster meal.
This year, Boals and Yearout invited chef Bob Waggoner to take a look at their operation and participate in a little reinvention and reinvestment on the menu side.
They did not change what was not “broke.” They just laced the menu with more local and seasonal ingredients and continued the longtime support the Boals family has had for the Sustainable Seafood Initiative.
Over recent weekend visits, it was clear that the Noisy Oyster resonated with visitors to Charleston.
Large parties of wedding guests, multigenerational families and couples focusing their cameras chowed down on fresh oysters; the Boals’ signature crab dip, which dates back a half-century; and peel-and-eat shrimp.
Oysters Rockefeller and deep-fried Gulf oysters tossed in hot sauce and blanketed in a creamy blue cheese dressing were popular choices for those who are not into raw seafood.
The menu is a combination of tried-and-true coastal favorites: fried seafood combination platters, shrimp and grits, crab cakes and “something” wrapped in bacon as well as chicken and steak for those adverse to seafood.
Seafood is their core, but they are stretching their boundaries by venturing down contemporary lane with items including fried Johns Island green tomatoes, jacketed in a light cornmeal crust, topping Carolina stone-ground grits. The preparation of the tomatoes was a spot-on introduction to this Southern staple. The grits, however, congealed into pasty corn glue, having endured the culinary waiting game before the tomatoes were plated. A warm relish of diced red tomatoes, basil strands and minced lemon peel sparked the flavors of this dish. It was just too bad about those grits.
An order of Folly River littleneck clams brought flavor-rich quahogs to the table, but at the size of a thumbnail, these “silence of the clams” needed a lot more company in the bowl as well as a swill of broth to keep them moist. Ordering by the “each” works for some shellfish, but not these juveniles.
Calamari rings are batter-boosted with red chili flakes and coconut shrimp get a dip in a pina colada dredge — common menu items with an upgrade in flavor.
You can get your seafood “naked” at the raw bar and seasonal oysters, littleneck clams along with steamed clams, oysters and shrimp will not disappoint.
The menu leans on fried foods but also pulls from the canon of American staples with burgers, chicken breast, filets and pasta.
Their approach is comprehensive when it comes to the sandwich menu: tacos, burgers, po’ boys, fried shellfish and grilled fish served with a mound of thickly cut fries, garlic-dill pickles and lettuce and tomato.
Our order of grouper, a popular and regulated fish variety, was simply grilled and wore its badge of freshness with meaty texture and large flakes. Grouper does not come cheap and if you find it so priced, you may want to question its origin. A sandwich at the Noisy Oyster costs $16.99.
A Charleston shrimp boil (available in quarter-, half- and full-pound portions) was a cooking enigma: tender shrimp, gently spiced Carolina smoked sausage, Red Bliss potatoes were all prepared with attention to the details of the cooking times of these ingredients except for the sweet Silver Queen corn. The small sections of corn were cooked to the watery finish of a corn sponge. This quarter-pound serving was a generous heap of food and was served with melted butter and cocktail sauce.
The Noisy Oyster steam pot, which gained fame and notoriety when Chris Cognac of the Food Network’s “Hungry Detective” came to Charleston in 2007, remains on the menu.
Much like the Frogmore Stew (shrimp boil), the steam pot adds oysters, crab legs and clams to the ingredients of the shrimp boil and cooks it all in a tomato-based broth. Bring an appetite and a crowd for this one.
Brown’s banana pudding topped with toasty meringue is not to be missed. Crisp vanilla cookie wafers surround the moat of pudding and the marshmallow-like meringue tempers sweetness and custard with balance.
Nautical ephemera define the space. The Lucky Lady hangs in homage to the sea with ample oars, lures and hooks contributing to the look of a coastal restaurant.
Thatched roofs shelter the bar and a side set of booths but the premium seating is along the perimeter where views of the city prevail.
Our server was being shadowed by a new hire and that brought mindfulness to her engagement with us. A larger group, in town to celebrate a wedding, did not garner such attention from their server.
The Noisy Oyster is no Bubba Gump, which is also located in the City Market, but it is also no Pike Place Market in Seattle.
It has more in common with Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen in Cahaba Heights, Alabama, where uniformity and familiarity prevail on the menu and locals and tourists can find a reason to return. Size and price are commensurate and the lines at the door clamor for the opportunity to get hooked on seafood.