Restaurant Review: Chive Blossom Cafe a hidden treasure of divergent flavors
Chive Blossom Cafe is one of those places you have to look for to find. But once you discover it nestled beneath the live oaks and behind the bamboo garden, there’s a good chance you will return.
Situated near the corner of Ocean Highway and North Causeway Road (but barely visible from either when traffic backs up at the light) in Pawleys Island, Chive Blossom is difficult to locate but worth the effort.
It’s also part of the charm of the quaint, island-rustic restaurant and outdoor patio deck. The tucked-away location allows for a surprisingly serene dining experience on an otherwise busy street corner.
An unassuming wooden sign and a small, tan-colored building that could be mistaken for a private residence are the only clues to the culinary treasures inside. Chive Blossom is as hard to define as it is to find.
“We call it eclectic world cuisine with a Southern flair,” said co-owner Paul Kelly Renualt (along with wife Trina), listing French, Mediterranean and Asian influences on the menu, “and we’re very seafood-centric.”
Regular diners are less impressed with the titles than the tastes, making Chive Blossom a fixture on Pawleys Island’s fine-dining circuit. The cafe is in its 18th year, the past six at the current low-key locale.
“This building was 100 different things before we moved in,” Renualt joked. “It used to be a bright red and yellow ice cream parlor. It looked like somebody went crazy on it with ketchup and mustard bottles.”
While the previous occupants obviously went to great lengths to grab attention, Chive Blossom has relied on its creative dishes and unique experience to lure foodies to the hideaway and build a loyal following.
“We’ve worked at restaurants in the area for a long time so we know lots people in the business,” said Renualt, previously a chef at Frank’s. “We have a good local clientele and tourists that come back every year.”
Particularly in the warmer months when patrons gravitate to the outdoor patio deck, complete with shade trees, umbrellas, plants, a fountain, tables, a full bar and a large hole in the wall behind the bamboo patch.
“We weren’t sure how the big circle in the wall would work,” Renualt confessed. “We were worried it would let in too much noise from the road, but the bamboo blocks it out. People ask to sit there all the time.”
Guests looking for a more formal experience can be seated indoors, where a spacious ocean-themed chandelier hovers over the main dining area. Large pane-glass windows provide a scenic view of the surroundings.
But the main draw is the food, and Chive Blossom offers a diverse lunch and dinner menu loaded with can’t-miss options. The theme is difficult to categorize (if you need that kind of thing) but it’s all good.
In addition to daily specials that are also all over the map, the dinner menu features a wide selection of international, Southern and Lowcountry dishes, starting with their famous soups (she-crab and tomato basil).
A table of four could make a meal from around the world (particularly from the sea). Starters include Pan-Seared Conch, Charred Octopus, Asian Duck Breast, Fried Green Tomato Napoleon and Lowcountry Oyster Pie.
Entrees range from world cuisine (Mediterranean Salmon and Beef Short rib Ossobucco) to the unapologetically Southern (Potato-Encrusted Rainbow Trout and Blackened Pork Porterhouse with collards, cream corn and black-eyed peas).
Seafood makes up the majority of the menu, including popular choices like Shrimp & Scallops over yellow grits and truffle butter, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and Cioppino with clams, scallops, shrimp, crab and flounder.
Rather have it your way? There’s the Fish Du Jour, the Fried Seafood Sampler, Cornmeal Crusted Flounder and the Local Grouper. Landfood-lovers can order the Barrel-Cut Filet, or make it a surf-and-turf combination.
“We’re like 400 yards from the ocean so people expect us to have great seafood,” Renualt said. “We get our seafood fresh from McClellanville and we use local ingredients in season. Those are corners you can’t cut.”
Vegetarians, vegans and just plain healthy eaters have lots of options as well, like the Fall Vegetable Orzo, Beet Carpaccio, Shrimp-Stuffed Medjool Dates, Fried Oyster Salad and the Chive Blossom Chopped Salad.
Lunch is a scaled-back version of the dinner menu with a few sandwiches and surprises, like Crustless Crab Quiche, Fried Chicken Livers and Seafood Pot Pie with shrimp, scallops and crab baked in a puff pastry.
Did someone say “dessert”? Fuhgetaboutit! Chive Blossom offers an assortment of sweets, but the basic baked brownie topped with ice cream is tough to beat no matter how fancy the other options.
There’s one more hidden treasure at Chive Blossom that reflects the emphasis on freshness – an herb garden in the back the chefs use for their dishes. It’s one more example of finding flavor in unlikely places.