Restaurant Review: Inlet Provisions Company growing waterfront roots
The Hot Fish Club is an institution on the Murrells Inlet waterfront dining scene, but the same cannot be said of its next-door neighbors over the years.
While the Hot Fish Club occupies the oldest restaurant building on the Grand Strand and has a history dating back to the area’s earliest settlers, the adjacent property at 4891 Highway 17 has seen a revolving door of rivals open and close over the years, most recently Woodland Creek Grill, Fuego Mexican Grill and King Street Grille. Rather than endure another round of renovations next door for another ill-fated grill d’jour, Hot Fish Club opted to give it a shot.
Preparing to celebrate its first anniversary, Inlet Provision Company has quickly proven to be a worthy addition to the Murrells Inlet waterfront district and the HFC restaurant family. Serving a creative and diverse menu of seafood and “landfood” dishes, Inlet Provisions Company provides a nice compliment to its seafood-focused sister restaurant and offers incredible indoor and outdoor views of the tidal creeks and salt marshes. It is far from a carbon copy of its well-established neighbor.
“We wanted to make sure that our menu is different than Hot Fish Club, and different from anywhere else in the Marshwalk area, really,” said IPC general manager Kevin VanBremen, “There are so many other options around here that it’s not enough just to be good; you also have to set yourself apart.”
In a way, Inlet Provision Company is a lot like the unfortunate men’s haircut fad named in honor of a native fish – the mullet. It’s all business in the front (the exterior resembles an old general store meets seaside trading post) and a party in the back (multiple decks overlooking the inlet).
The former adds to the motif of a casual, creekside cafe without pretense, and the motto “Good Food, Bad Advice” painted on the front of the building lets potential patrons know that IPC doesn’t take itself too seriously. “We wanted to add a little sarcasm,” VanBremen said.
But the unassuming front, featuring cargo crates and nautical-themed novelties, belies what’s inside – and more to the point, what’s out back. In addition to a private dining room, a large, open dining area and bar with excellent window views of the inlet, a series of indoor/outdoor decks give guests lovely vistas of Murrells Inlet in any kind of weather. Covered, enclosed and open-air decks allow guests to stay warm with a window-front view or soak up the scenic beauty and sunshine.
“Everyone likes to sit outside or at least see the inlet, so we wanted to maximize the back bar area,” VanBremen said. “There was a porch area that wasn’t covered and it just got too hot in the summer. Now it provides shelter from the rain and shade from the sun. The garage doors allow us to make (the restaurant and bar area) open-air anytime it gets over 70 degrees or so, and we have gas heaters outside for when it gets cold.”
There’s also an outdoor bar that opens as needed to keep the party in the back rocking.
Provisions and Revisions
Inlet Provisions Company sets itself apart from Hot Fish Club in a few key ways, primarily by offering lunch year-round. And while Hot Fish Club’s menu is dominated by seafood, IPC offers a wider range of choices that are perfect for parties with split ideas about what’s for dinner.
“Our top sellers are the Pan-Seared Scallops and the Crispy Pork Belly, so we do a nice mix of seafood and Southern dishes,” VanBremen said. “We wanted to have a more well-rounded menu, and we are always going to stay well-rounded.”
Featuring a nice balance between surf and turf entrees, like steam pots and the Inlet Seafood Platter (grilled or fried shrimp, flounder, oysters and mini-crab cake) or the Prime Filet and Flat Iron Steak (char-grilled and topped with red onion confit and black pepper cream sauce), Inlet Provisions also offers a choice of traditional classics (shrimp and grits) and cutting-edge creations (lobster and shrimp bombs encased in fried wontons).
The small plates and entrees offer similar selections, such as the Provisions Sampler (baby back ribs, chicken drumsticks and a chicken and waffle tender) and Triple Sliders (lobster, shrimp and crab cakes in their own sauce). Even the appetizers run the gambit of Southern simplicity (boiled peanuts and fried pork cracklins) to culinary complexity (four different types of oyster shooters and mac and cheeses).
“We’re going to change the menu next month, but we’re not taking anything off,” VanBremen said. “We’re adding ribeye and snapper and grouper dishes to give it more diversity.”
Table for One in the Sun
During a recent lunch visit, the unexpected happened. The clouds and fog lifted from over the inlet and the sun popped out long enough to allow for an outdoor meal with an incredible view. It was just me, a heron hunting in the shallows, a paddleboarder exploring this stretch of marsh.
Popular lunch options include soups (Bahamian Conch Chowder, New England Clam Chowder, or the Miami Vice mix of the two), salads (Caprese Shrimp Salad or Honey-Grilled Chicken), and sandwiches (Lobster Grilled Cheese, Pork Belly Banh Mi, Shrimpster Rolls and Smash Burger).
But because this was my first meal of the day, I gravitated to the Poor Man’s Eggs Benedict, a toasted slice of sourdough Ciabatta bread topped with thick-sliced fried bologna, over-easy egg, Hollandaise sauce and fried onions. The combination made the perfect brunch dish and certainly accounted for two meals worth of calories.
The massive meal prevented me from trying two of its proudest offerings – drinks and desserts. Inlet Provisions Company has a long list of beers, wines and craft cocktails (Sips Ahoy, Manhattan at the Movies and the Murrells Inlet Mule). In fact, even the desserts come in a jar, including Key Lime Pie, Peach Cobbler, Triple Chocolate and VanBremen’s favorite, Banana Pudding.
Overall, IPC scores big on food and atmosphere, particularly the inlet views and abundance of seating options. The indoor section, including a separate dining room for private functions, has a familiar tackle-shop chic decor one can find at various places on the South Strand, but there are few that offer such scenic vistas of the inlet.
As IPC celebrates its first anniversary on Feb. 11, look for this waterfront newcomer to bring in more business in the front and throw more parties out back for years to come.