Undercover Foodie serves up the local dish: Moondoggies Cafe
By Author Unknown | While Beaufort can be a general term used to describe a wide area, each sea island, village and town is a vital part that makes up the whole of our wonderful section of the Lowcountry, and each has its own unique and distinguishably inherent personality. While ‘Beaufort proper’ may be the main hub of activity and notoriety, these wonderful towns contain a rich history, charmingly distinctive personality, and delicious food.
So it is on this rather cool evening that I steer my vehicle toward Port Royal, neatly tucked in between Parris Island and the “mainland” island of Beaufort. (yes, Beaufort IS an island) Unsure as to whether it’s my ravenous stomach or the wonderful smells of home cooking with a southern flair, I park and walk under old Spanish oaks and overworn and welcoming plank boards and pass through the front door of Moondoggies Café and Grill.
Notoriety of specific menu items from Moondoogies has spread far and wide, and upon informing some foodie friends of this week’s destination, they had two words for me; Pickle… Chips… Followed by a piercing stare to add exclamation to their point. I realize it would blasphemous of me to not order the Pickle Chips. So I take my chances and ask my friendly waitress for the appetizer.
Now, as you know if you’ve been following this column and my foodie adventures, then you know of my general disdain for pickles, yet this marks the 3rd instance of me partaking in my arch enemy of the pickled world. What is it about Beaufort restaurants that can make me fall in love with the things that I normally dislike? Something magically, obviously, since it is in no time that a serving of Moondoggie’s famous pickle chips are placed before me. Paper thin and crinkle cut with just enough breading to impart the essential fried flavor without getting bogged down in the breading itself and losing the pickle flavor. Wonderfully tart but not overpowering; simply salty, crunchy deliciousness. The pickle chips are served with two dips – horseradish and ranch. Continuing my “I normally dislike this except in this case” trend, I tend to dislike both sauces/dressings (and I know, I KNOW, how can I call myself a southerner and dislike ranch?) But before you take my southerner card, I will say that with the intercession of Pickle chips, I’m in love. The Horseradish dip delights with its slight spiced kick, indicative of radish, but fleeting fast enough in order for the creaminess of the sauce to come through and the salty vinegar from the pickle to cut above the flavor. Similarly, the ranch dip is tame and understated in its traditionally heady flavors and supportive of the Pickle Chips’ flavor, rather than haughty. The overbearing flavors that usually send me running for the hills with these dips feel restrained and scaled down, allowing the wonderfully tart and savory pickle flavor to cut through and shine, and force this foodie to ultimately show some restraint in order to save room for what’s to come.
As my side salad followed closely by a plate of Crab Cakes arrives, I’m glad that I saved room. The side salad is rather pedestrian and while not terrible, not really special either. But my excitement over crab cakes may have sullied any notion of greenery this evening. Crab cakes hold a special place in my heart, and while so many of our childhood memories fade over time, my memories of crab cakes being the first seafood I ever ate has stuck with me over the years. As such, I’ve become rather picky about their preparation and presentation. Which brings me to the present, and as I quite literally being to tear apart my first crabby round in search of any filler, I am left presently surprised of its almost complete absence. These cakes are full of lumpy meat, aggressive seasoning (which I prefer), and slight citrus notes from my squeeze of lemon. Exactly how crab cakes should be, and upon first bite, full of simple crab flavor, I am reassured by their deliciousness. So delicious in their inherent crabbiness, I feel that they really don’t need any sort of accompaniment of sauce, but for the sake of posterity, I partake in Moondoggie’s homemade remoulade. Tasting with my finger before dipping a forkful of crab cake, the slight tang represents the south well, and offers a slight piquant counterpoint from the uninhibited flavors from the crab cakes. However, in my purview, this is not the sauce to best all sauces, and for the most part, I leave it by the wayside.
Joining my crab cakes in supportive roles are a pair of hushpuppies, a side of garlic mashed potatoes, and a few spears of asparagus. The hushpuppies are everything that is right with a hushpuppy; warm, ever so slightly sweet breading that is crisped nicely on the outside but soft with corn on the inside. Despite their size, they are absent of any sort of heaviness. However, the remaining side-kicks miss the mark, proportionally. While the asparagus is cooked nicely and not at all bland, the dish has a mere 2 spears, almost as if they were an afterthought, and leave this foodie wanting more. Dissimilarly, the serving of garlic mashed potatoes is both heavy in garlic and heavy in amount, easily feeding a small family by itself. The two main sides to this dish serve to leave the dish as a whole unbalanced. Had there been more veg and less starch, the dish would have a round-the-bases winner.
Not to be forgotten, I place a to-go order of Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke dip for Mr. Foodie. Upon first bite of the appetizer in our kitchen, Mr. Foodie summed up the dish with such accuracy that it warms my foodie heart; the red pepper immediately impresses itself upon your taste buds, but quickly backs away in order for the artichokes to shine through. And while the dish is warm and versatile in flavor, the lack of overt flavor from the cheese is noticeable and leaves this Foodie wishing for more. With some simple tweaks, this dish has the potential to go from decent to extraordinary.
Despite a few discrepancies of flavor, Moondoggies is such an innate part of Port Royal, and, in turn, Beaufort, that I can absolutely see myself returning to. Whether it be to share a part of this Lowcountry with a new visitor, or to hear the story about the dog of Moondoggies (which you should ask about the next time you are dining-in), or, for lack of anything more graceful to say, it may be to simply partake in my newfound love, Pickle Chips. This quaint and inviting establishment has left their mark. If for nothing else, than for the simple fact that there’s something to be said about a restaurant that can embrace my dislikes, twist their inherent elements around, and present something traditional yet new enough to get my taste buds exciting and my stomach hungry for more.
This Foodie gives Moondoggies a 3 ½ fork review.
For the lastest flavor, follow Undercover Foodie on Twitter @FoodieUndrCover