It’s amazing what a couple of friends can do with tool belts and a coping saw. That is, if your friends happen to be builders in search of a watering hole to call their own.
This past summer, a storm of activity took place at Coleman Boulevard and Mill Street. This former restaurant site swirled in sawdust as the Kaufmann Construction team (Dave and Ryan, father and son) along with fellow builder-buddy Thomas Berry set about framing what was to become The Shelter Kitchen + Bar. They opened in the peak of coastal Carolina hurricane season, and they have been in the eye of the storm for Mount Pleasant eating and drinking since opening day.
Al fresco defines the seating areas with porches, picnic tables and an outside bar providing most of the dining space.
Inside, you will find a standard pool table with a few tables in one interior room, a cleverly directed “Evacuation Route” and a wall of high tops flanking the inside of the U-shaped bar that winds its way outside.
The walls are paneled with galvanized metal and crowned with a custom-designed “bottle molding” that will have you humming “A hundred bottles of beer on the wall, a hundred bottles of beer.”
Subway lights and rustic lanterns illuminate the porches and patio areas, and the bar stools are as mismatched as Murtaugh and Riggs in “Lethal Weapon.”
The decor is dressed down. As it should be for a location that may be called on to batten down the hatches.
The requisite flat screens are there, but at the time of our visit, groups of family and friends were focused on each other: Champagne popping in celebration of a certain jewel placed on a ring finger; the holidays being toasted with an eggnog and brandy ($4) drink special; and the merits of toasted pecans in Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan Ale ($6) being debated as happy hour came to a close.
The menu is slanted with bar-friendly salt, crunch and ooze. The McClellanville shrimp dip ($9.50) and Buffalo chicken wings-inspired chicken dip ($7) are perfect foils for the brews served from a special tap system that keeps the beer icy-cold.
An order of fried pickles and slender okra pods ($7) was far superior to the frozen-then-fried nuggets that pass for fried okra in many eateries around town. A neighboring table caught a glimpse of the bangle bracelet-size onion rings ($4) and flagged down their server for an order.
The Lowcountry Rolls ($9) were highly rated by our server and justly so. An eggroll wrapper was filled with pulled pork, house-made collards and mustard-based barbecue sauce, then fried to a crisp finish and plated on an aluminum pan lined with a fresh collard leaf.
A grilled Caesar salad ($8) needs a redo. The greens were limp, not grilled, and the dressing served on the side was more spackle than salad dressing. A credit to the dressing, as it did taste of anchovy and garlic — two basic ingredients that go missing in many salads served in the name of “Caesar.”
You can top any of the salads with a protein of your choosing and we were intrigued by the “smoked chicken salad.” Nary a bit of smoke flavor, not even the fake kind, was detected in the chicken. But the salad itself was quite nice with freshly roasted chicken and just enough mayonnaise to bind it.
Fish and chips ($10.50) vary with the day, and mahi cheeks were featured at the time of our visit. Fresh and mild, they were a bit greasy from the fry basket, but the generous portion of tartar sauce that partnered with them was nice and lemony.
Anything you can do to a burger ($9.50-$11.50), you can do to a chicken breast, portobello mushroom cap or veggie patty.
The real value at Shelter is the bog ($5). For the money, you would be hard pressed to find a better (and more filling) deal in town, a heaping bowl of seasoned rice layered with bits of chicken and vegetables.
The menu is priced at $15 and under for all offerings (with the possible exception of a daily special).
The kitchen hunkers down in the South with Beaufort stew ($15), pimiento cheese, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, okra and tomato soup, Texas toast, bacon vinaigrette, sweet potato pie and banana pudding.
Early reports had some timing issues, but during our visit, the kitchen maintained the pressure bars of service. Our friendly server was well-schooled on the path of the ingredients from pantry to plate and sustained in her checking back on food quality and beverage needs.
The Kaufmanns and the Berrys have constructed a port in the storm for your thirst and your hunger, and though not on Shem Creek, you can see it from there.