This column offers a sampling of dining experiences in the area. It is not intended as a review of the restaurant other than to provide the reader with one diner's experience. It also appears in The Herald's Friday entertainment section, "Ticket."
LOCATION: 2910 S. Hwy. 161, York
HOURS: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday and 3-10 p.m. Saturday
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AMBIANCE: Laid back fish camp
My neighbor spoiled me from going to fish camps. On several occasions, I've had the privilege of dining on his fried fresh striper reeled in on nearby lakes. The chunks of meat are lightly battered and light on grease. Same goes for his hushpuppies. Absolutely scrumptious. When I have fish, I want it to taste like fish.
So when my neighbors raved about a seafood place in western York County, assuring me it's as good (and fresh "because they change the oil every day") as my next door angler's homemade plates, I leaped to go to Palmetto Seafood. In fact, we made plans for the following Friday night.
As we drove along the country route, a visible glowing sign (and strands of lights around palmetto trees) and busy parking lot stood out. It was about 8 p.m., after the typical dinner rush, but still hoppin'.
Palmetto Seafood reminds of what I'd call a river house -- a small, one-room house (more like a shack) with a long front porch for sitting, inside bare compressed wood walls adorned with beer and liquor logo mirrors, low lighting at each table, a bar and a neighborly atmosphere. The small room was full with diners when we lucked upon an open booth in the corner. The long mirror hung where a window might be, opened up our cozy booth.
FYI: The room is smoky. However, there's also a cool covered setup outdoors (with the walls currently covered with clear plastic kept warm by a big wood stove and electric heaters) of picnic tables, patio-style tables and a bar. When the weather warms, the plastic walls come down for an open, outdoor room. I'm sure the countryside view is pretty, but I couldn't help but think how cool it'd be sitting along the Catawba. Definitely a unique atmosphere one might expect on the Coast.
A waitress quickly came to get our drink orders as we perused the two-page menu. Appetizers ($2.50-$6.85) include the usual fried fare of fries, hushpuppies, mushrooms, onion rings and cheese sticks, as well as shrimp or oyster cocktail.
Baskets ($6.85) that include fries and slaw include choices of hot wings, chicken tenders, chicken breast sandwich and flounder.
There's oyster stew ($4.85) and house salad ($3.50), and two steak options of 10-ounce hamburger ($9.85) or 10-ounce ribeye ($13.85), both served with fries or onion rings, house salad or slaw, and bread.
There's also a children's menu for 12 and younger of shrimp, perch or flounder ($6.25) served with fries, slaw, hushpuppies and drinks.
Naturally, we were here for the seafood ($9.85-$15.85). While you can order just one fish dish, there's also two seafood item combos, or even a platter that includes almost everything -- deviled crab, jumbo shrimp, oysters, scallops and a choice of fish. The fish options are perch, flounder, catfish -- filet or salt and pepper, and the one that jumped out at me -- frog legs. I have never been somewhere with frog legs on the menu. I remember my father used to tease us as kids about eating frog, ants, etc. My curiosity was piqued.
We each went with combos; there's also grilled shrimp that's delightful. We enjoyed the time spent chatting for our meals to be delivered, and naturally, the frog legs, which my angler neighbor had eaten many times before but a long time ago, were the topic of conversation -- "taste like chicken" ... "a very white meat."
When my heaving basket arrived, I was prepared to try the legs. We all grabbed a leg, or two. It's kind of like eating a chicken wing, only it's frog bone. Nice taste, but still, it was hard for me to swallow. Maybe it's because it's not as common on menus or in the grocery stores as other animals, but amphibians and reptiles, like gator, just don't make my mouth water. I will say, however, once I could get past my mind-block, I did like the texture of and the fishy-chicken taste of the frog legs.
As for my two large pieces of salt and pepper flounder, my neighbors are right: The fried fish is great, and not too greasy, with more meat than breading and wonderful flavor. I even loved the homemade tartar sauce and simple slaw of cabbage, Duke's mayo, salt and pepper. And, there was plenty to take home - what a fare price at $12.85.
Palmetto Seafood's neighborly style, simple decor and focus on making great seafood, includes a few surprises that make it toadally unfrogettable.
FOR RESTAURANT INSPECTION RATINGS: In Mecklenburg County, visit mecklenburg.digitalhealthdepart-ment.com. In York County, visit scdhec.net/health/envhlth/food_protection/scores.htm. In Gaston County, visit www.co.gaston.nc.us/HealthDept/index.HTM.