Lowcountry Food: The Foolish Frog delivers what’s fresh
By Betsy Hinderliter | The Foolish Frog delivers what’s fresh in the Lowcountry, and that’s no fish tale. We know that fishing stories and Southerners go together like barbeque and coleslaw. Everyone I know has at least one to tell, even if it they weren’t witness to the actual fish-story generating event.
My own involves a 30-gallon trash can full of shrimp and some wily blue crabs caught by my Dad, uncle and older cousins in a large seine net in the creeks around our family beach house. I’ll never forget almost losing my finger to one of those testy crabs when I reached into the shrimp container and then made the belated realization that I had made a very poor choice.
Instantaneously, I felt panic and pain as that voracious blue caught hold of my finger. My ensuing scream heard ‘round Garden City Beach’ was followed by howls of laughter from my brother as I flung the crab across the dock where it landed squarely at my Mother’s feet. I’ll admit that it took a couple of summers to participate in catching blues again following the “crab incident”. However, these days I do take great pleasure (revenge?) in every crab crack, crab cake and crab casserole set in front of me.
Now I know you may think, 30-gallon trash cans full of shrimp and crabs? Are you kidding me? We need a fact check here. But yes, the waters around Beaufort and the entire coast of South Carolina are brimming with blue crabs, shrimp, oysters and flounder. Back in the day (the ‘70’s in my case) all you needed was a permit, the right equipment and some local insider knowledge to catch the limit. That was all squarely covered by my ‘Southern outdoorsman’ Dad.
Today, while you may not be up for pulling a net through 3 feet of pluff mud or setting crab pots on your next trip to Fripp Island or Beaufort, you can savor some excellent South Carolina seafood at one of our many local restaurants like The Foolish Frog located on St. Helena Island. The restaurant came under new ownership in February 2013, retaining its same quirky yet charming atmosphere (it was the Frogmore post office up until being handsomely renovated in 2009 by Beekman Webb and Bob Roderer) and many menu favorites – along with a burst of innovation by way of chef Will McLenagan.
Foolish Frog believes in the importance of utilizing local purveyors for the seafood and produce served in its restaurant. Dempsey Farms, located right down the road from the restaurant, is a supplier of seasonal produce Chef Will handpicking their own vegetables that are served.
We were told that they try to make anything and everything in-house. They pickle their own okra, pickle their own shrimp, and can their own pickles. All their sauces and dressing are made in the kitchen and they’re proud to serve local seafood like shrimp, fish and oysters – cutting whole fish with nothing precut.
Now that’s the kind of dedication I love!
So with a name like The Foolish Frog, this place became a must-eat restaurant for my family and me when we relocated back to Beaufort a few years ago. Since that time we’ve made several visits to ‘The Frog’, usually with seafood-starved northern relatives in tow. It has always been an excellent experience here so we keep coming back. And before you ask, lets get this out of the way: Yes, they do serve frog’s legs – fried crispy and served with a tangy, Creole mustard sauce. Chef Will keeps the seafood-laden menu fresh by incorporating his expertise in French and Vietnamese-style cuisine into the menu.
On my plate during my most recent jaunt here was Crawfish & Shrimp Yum Yum Ya Ya, which hit all the high points – perfectly prepared seafood (shrimp and crayfish) and spicy Andouille sausage, bathed in a piquant garlic Tabasco cream sauce over a flawless (yes, I mean flawless) grits cake. I could go on and on about this grits cake, so let me state that this was the BEST GRITS CAKE I HAVE EVER EATEN – anywhere, period – flavorful, smooth and creamy on the inside and on the outside – crispy but not the least bit greasy. The presentation was nicely constructed making a lovely plate for gazing AND grazing.
We also tried the flash fried calamari that was excellent. This is one of my husband’s all-time favorite appetizers, so the bar is set high. As usual, The Frog’s version did not disappoint. Served with an Asian-influenced Sweet Thai Chili dipping sauce, we appreciate being served the WHOLE squid with plenty of tender sliced rings AND tentacles – a tell tale sign these calamari are prepared fresh onsite.
We are just finishing our apps and soaking up the mash-side breeze when our entrees arrive. Note that The Frog enjoys an enviable location right on the marsh, yet sits squarely on Highway 21 – so it is easy to find and even easier to revel in that Lowcountry view.
Honestly with a menu this good it’s hard to decide just which entrée to order on any given night. The Shrimp Saga Blu with its combo of tangy blue cheese, garlic and local shrimp receives consideration, as does the Imperial Crab Stuffed Flounder. Oh, for the love (and revenge?) of crabs that has to be a top choice for me.
For dinner, my husband chooses the Shrimp Penne Pasta; a mélange of Applewood smoked bacon, diced purple onion, tomato, lemon zest, fresh herbs, garlic, and local shrimp sautéed and then tossed with penne. Again this entrée makes a very pretty presentation and satisfies my husband’s craving for seafood and pasta to a tee.
Tonight I go in a different direction by trying the New York strip steak that has been hand cut on the premises. It is served with both sautéed cremini mushrooms and Vidalia onions, and topped with a creamy bordelaise sauce, a personal favorite.
After I finish my last bite of grit cake and seriously contemplate licking the plate (but I didn’t!), I easily slice into my 12 ounce strip (with nice grill marks) and find that it’s perfectly seasoned – a nice surprise to me, as many times I find restaurant steaks to be either over or under-seasoned, especially when accompanied with a sauce.
After thoroughly enjoying our entrees, we opt to split a dessert – the house-made Oreo cookie pie made with vanilla ice cream. It was a huge slice of creamy goodness so a few bites make a good, cool ending to a satisfying meal on the deck at the Foolish Frog.
The Frog also offers nightly specials that include appetizers, entrees and desserts. And when in season, those incredible local briny treats – Lady’s Island Oysters – served raw, steamed, and in their Sweet-n-Salty Stuffed Baked Oyster Rockefeller on their brilliant app menu.
And that’s no fish tale.
To see what’s fresh at the Frog, visit them on Facebook here.
See more about The Foolish Frog in our Restaurant Guide, and read more about Beaufort’s restaurants in our Lowcountry Food column and always get ‘the local dish’.