In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it was “deja vu all over again!”
On a recent visit to The Wreckfish in North Charleston, I felt like I had been there before, and in one way I had, as much of the decor of the now-shuttered Guy Harvey’s Island Grill in Mount Pleasant looks to have washed up on the shores of Northwoods Boulevard and has found a home at Sam Mustafa’s latest seafood enterprise.
Mustafa of the Charleston Hospitality Group has added a local seafood house to his growing portfolio of restaurants: Toast!, Tabbuli, Market Street Saloon, Eli’s Table, Whisk Bakery and Charleston Hospitality Catering.
In the location of what was a Market Street Saloon is now The Wreckfish, signaling its presence with brightly colored nautical flags. Inside, those charming sea-life screened tabletops and blue nautical fabric-covered booths with Guy Harvey’s name on them craft an attractive seating area.
The goal for the restaurant design team was to capture a bit of a shipwrecked look: floors worn to a weathered coastal patina and walls accented with crab traps, fish nets, rods and reels. The center of the dining room is brightened by a beautiful saltwater aquarium that will delight all lovers of the sea. Outside along the deck, a brightly colored sailboat beacons ahoy.
Mobiles of the sea — suspended billfish, sharks, dolphins and hammerheads — float above the heads of diners, schooling in their majestic size and mass and transforming the space into a wreck of another kind.
The menu is seafood-centric, with a burger ($7.99), chicken breast ($12.99) and sirloin steak ($17.99) as the nonseafood options.
The lure of the appetizer menu will be found in its fried items: hush puppies ($3.99), green tomatoes ($5.99), calamari ($7.99), oysters ($7.99), onion rings ($5.99) and pickles ($4.99).
We tried the Sunday local oyster bucket ($7), and it was first-rate. A generous amount of hot and steamy bivalves were loaded into a metal bucket, but it took nearly 20 minutes for it to appear at our table. A cup of clam chowder ($3.50) suffered a similar fate as our server returned to the kitchen to check on its delay. When it arrived, a bracing cup of hot broth and potatoes, the briny taste of clams was faint.
The Wreckfish prides itself on fresh and local fish. The Fisherman’s Feasts ($13.99-$17.99) allow you to select from among nine seafood offerings. Choose your preferred method of cooking — blackened, broiled, fried and flat-iron grilled — add two sides and dig in.
The namesake wreckfish ($17.99) was not available, but our server told us the flounder was local, so flounder it was ($14.99). The fish was nicely crumbed and seasoned, more than ample in portion size and served with mac and cheese and coleslaw. The latter was sweet, as was the tartar sauce. I prefer more tang in slaw and tartar sauces not only for the flavor but for the balance they provide to a fried food.
Any of the fish offerings can be had as a sandwich or salad topper ($8.99-$12.99). The menu also includes “house specialty plates” that marry combination platters with Lowcountry signature dishes such as shrimp and grits ($14.99), Charleston crab cake ($17.99) and local oysters ($13.99).
The burger is special, as the meat comes from the “Magician of Meat” and star of the Food Network show “Meat Men,” Pat La Frieda Jr. Since 1922, this Brooklyn family has provided quality meat products to a who’s who in the restaurant world. They were chosen by Danny Meyer to blend his burger mix for the Shake Shacks. The La Friedas now produce 75,000 burgers a day and deliver their meat fresh to more than 600 restaurant clients. The Wreckfish’s blend of chuck and short rib ($7.99) brought flavor to the bun but was overcooked.
If the kitchen was firing on all cylinders, I would have sent it back. The burger is served with house-made kettle chips — good in theory but quick to cool on your plate. Cheese and/or bacon can be added for $1.
Desserts are made by sister bakery Whisk and include chocolate, coconut and carrot cakes; cheesecake; and Key lime pie ($5.99). You can add ice cream for $1.
Friendly servers and staff welcome you to the restaurant, but whatever system that should be in place to assure the flow of the dining experience from order in to service was very much missing at the time of this review visit. A simple cup of soup languished far too long in the kitchen; a burger spent too much time on the griddle. Helter-skelter described the way the servers were assigned their sections, and even though the manager on duty was tethered to a headset, it did little to foster communication from the back of the house to the front of the house.
The smiles and friendliness of the staff are diminished by the waits for food, random spills and few systems in obvious place to actually manage a dinner service.
The private party room was in use for two separate events that evening, and I did question if the larger parties were tripping up the kitchen. But in fairness to all the diners, The Wreckfish should staff for those events.
That being said, the portions will more than satisfy, the prices are quite fair and if you bypass the fried food, a simple meal of seafood can be yours.