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People come from all over, or from right around the corner. Hollywood locals perch at the bar to sip cold beer and watch the game. Families pass through on their way seaward to Edisto. And downtown dwellers travel 40 minutes outside their usual circuit to dine because they heard from a friend of a friend that the little hand-painted wooden sign out front is touting another sought-after seasonal delicacy. Perhaps soft-shell crabs are in, or some local mackerel made the short drive inland to the kitchen door, or just-caught oysters are waiting to be pan-fried in butter. The former fire station built in the 1950s doesn’t need to advertise—it’s filled to the brim with people in the know.
If you drive in from Charleston expecting tablecloths and tinkling glassware, you’ll surely be disappointed. This isn’t a place that requires jackets with yacht club crests, or even the latest fashions—though if that’s your thing, nobody here will object. Instead, the restaurant’s simple décor pays homage to the building’s former life. A weathered garage door marks the spot where fire engines once parked. The walls are blanketed with T-shirts referencing various fire stations across the land. In this welcoming setting, cooks Helen and Eric Mamo—daughter and son-in-law of owners Bill Twaler and Lia Sanders—serve a rotating menu of fresh fare, drawing from local producers.
You could stop in solely for the corncake, the more voluptuous of the various preparations that accompany strawberry season. It alone is worth your time. Like all of the best offerings at Old Firehouse Restaurant, it refines a local, seasonal ingredient with a casual but thoroughly regional interpretation. In this case, the shortbread gives way to a towering chunk of tender cornbread that proves the perfect sponge for a sweet maceration of berries mingling with freshly whipped cream.
A wood-burning oven in the corner of the open kitchen supplies superb pizza. The dough is tossed by hand. Ashes char the bottom of the crust. Tempting toppings include pimiento cheese and straight-from-the-sea shrimp. But the thing that diverts regulars a half hour off Highway 17 anytime they reach striking distance is the whole crispy flounder, deep-fried and crunchy, flopped on a plate without fanfare. It is simple and perfect, served with peach chutney spiked with jalapeños and a pile of creamy Geechie Boy grits milled just down the road.
The grits are repeated in multiple permutations. They adorn fresh shrimp, fried as crisply as the flounder; the ever-popular shrimp and grits; and the Hollywood shrimp, which involves fried country ham, garlic butter, and a half pound of shellfish. But if you get shrimp or scallops woven within the “mac and cheese” preparation, they unfortunately swim in an over-sauced bowl. Better to opt for a steak, especially the “Honey and Blue” filet, which comes with bleu cheese (or sub in goat cheese) stuffed into the center of a mouthwatering tenderloin. The chef stacks the hefty medallion of beef above crispy sweet potato fries before drizzling the whole thing with local honey. The steak’s juices mingling with the baking-spice flavors that spike the sweet potatoes will have you sopping the plate clean.
You can’t go wrong here by dining in season. When oysters are at their best, there is no tastier fried specimen in the Lowcountry. They are pan-fried in butter and served in a silver cocktail dish, simple and perfect, their interiors just warm and dangerously juicy. The same goes for shad roe, which every spring, the kitchen seems to source from a longtime contact near Santee a week or two earlier than even the haughtiest of downtown chefs. The roe is then wrapped with bacon and gently seared until it juxtaposes a crunchy exterior against a luscious and creamy center. As the weather warms, local heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and butter beans find their way into the kitchen.
After almost 13 years in business, the Old Firehouse Restaurant remains a venerable place that feels as if it’s been around for much longer, where people know each other and what to expect on the menu given the time of year. They are farm-to-table, simply because they exist in a place where people still actually farm.
Which brings us back to those strawberries. Oh, the strawberries! They are the stuff of springtime dreams, when the water is still too cold to swim, but the warm days bring bare feet in the sand. But theirs is a fleeting beauty. By the time this issue hits newsstands, they’ll likely be replaced by something more reflective of summer’s bounty, perhaps a dish featuring blueberries from Sweet Blues Berry Farm in the neighboring Meggett community.
Try the sautéed cabbage that the kitchen serves with almost everything. Though it’s sourced from Limehouse Produce, the dish pays homage to the old mainstay crop of Meggett, once known as the “Cabbage Capital of the World.” It’s fantastic as far as sautéed cabbage goes; will save you from gorging on two pounds of creamed grits; and will help save room for the corncake, which is worth a double order.
The Draw: Seasonal seafood, simply prepared
The Drawback: Lighter fare doesn’t extend beyond the salads.
Don’t Miss: Crispy fried flounder
6350 Hwy. 162, Hollywood