Story By Becky Billingsley
Chef Adam Kirby’s mind races and he talks fast, but it’s worthwhile making the effort to keep up with what he’s saying. The result will either be you learn something nifty about the culinary world, or he is describing something luscious you’re about to eat. On the best days, it’s both.
Chef Kirby’s culinary career started in his home base of Athens, Ga., and shifted to Hilo, Hawaii. There he steeped in Pacific Rim cuisine and marinated in new ideas. The young chef wanted to realize big dreams, so he went back to the mainland and attended Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from the school’s Le Cordon Bleu program.
He worked on the West Coast for a while, including a stint at Stars in San Francisco, before heading back to the side of the country he knows best, first in Atlanta, and then to the Grand Strand. In 2004 the chef was hired by Anne Hardee, and worked with her for three years before, three years ago, Chef Kirby became Hardee’s business partner.
“He is very creative,” Hardee says, “very passionate about his food, his presentation.”
It’s an understatement: Kirby fearlessly tinkers with longtime favorites to keep them interesting.
Bistro 217 was born as a second child to an established restaurant family. Hands-on partner Anne Hardee says she gave the new business its unusual name because it was their second restaurant, and because it is located on U.S. 17, the main north/south thoroughfare skirting the Grand Strand coast.
Anne has more than 20 years’ restaurant ownership experience, and she “wanted to create a unique, eclectic atmosphere.” It’s nice to see plans work out so well.
You enter Bistro 217 at the courtyard, where wrought iron tables are ringed by painted brick walls and sheltered by sturdy reinforced canvas. The space can be enclosed with zippered plastic drops, or opened to allow balmy beach breezes. Well-maintained plants add color, ivy crawls along the walls, and diffused natural light provides a Zen-like aura.
Inside the restaurant are banquettes and booths, a well-defined bar area and nifty little nooks for business meals or pleasurable privacy. Fresh flowers are a given; on a recent Wednesday it was miniature orange and yellow sunflower blossoms floating in shallow glass dishes.
What’s to eat
Some regulars thrive on the daily specials. Every day there are three for lunch and five for dinner.
“We’ll have a big salad with a bunch of stuff on it,” the chef says, “like a nut- or herb-encrusted fish. We’ll have a sandwich with soup or salad. There’ll be a pasta dish.”
He tosses off the phrase “a pasta dish,” as if it was an ordinary humble plate of something or other, but it will be perfectly al dente pasta with choice fish or local farm-raised chicken tossed with luxurious sauce and flavored with herbs the chef likely grew himself.
“I’ll change the spring menu when I plant the garden,” he continues. “I’ll green up the menu a little bit.”
The kitchen is greening up too; Bistro 217 just hired a company to pick up all their non-compostable trash and take it away for recycling.
But while many diners love the excitement of discovering that the day’s salad is coconut-crusted sole on a bed of greens, strawberries, walnuts, cucumbers (little half-moon morsels with the seeds removed), feta and red onion, with mango vinaigrette; others enjoy working their ways through each new seasonal menu.
The menu is divided into starters and entrees, but they might as well be called small plates and big plates.
Right now starter choices include Tomato, Crab and Jalapeno Soup that delivers bursts of sunshine in juicy tomato chunks and satisfying bites of crab meat and pepper heat. The lunchtime Warm Pistachio Encrusted Goat Cheese Salad is memorable, while at dinner a popular sharing item is the Vegetable Quesadilla filled with grilled portabello mushroom, diced tomato, sautéed spinach, roasted onion and three cheeses: brie, provolone and feta.
Lunch entrees are perfectly portioned balanced meals. Fish Tacos come with a rustic avocado salad, white corn chips and fresh salsa cruda, and the fish is cilantro encrusted tilapia. The Reuben 217 is a lovingly prepared sandwich that starts with corned beef braised in beer for 16 hours, and ends with fresh cabbage braised in the pan juices.
This fare is comfort food on a new higher plane. Chicken Pot Pie contains pulled roasted chicken and veloute sauce, and is topped with a crispy/flaky golden puff pastry. Country Fried Pork Tenderloin will be browned to a crispy perfection that would put anyone’s grandmother to shame.
At night the chef’s deft mastery of flavor combinations is shown off in Bistro Bangkok Chicken with a pleasantly sticky five pepper jelly sauce on traditionally non-sticky Georgetown County rice. Chef Kirby’s palatable genius shines with Horseradish Encrusted Pork Schnitzel and Sunrise Scallops with lobster carrot reduction.
Of course the chef has dessert surprises, including house-made ice creams.
“I don’t use any recipes,” he says. “I just make it how I think it’s made. Today I have Tiramisu with mascarpone, whipped cream, pressed espresso, espresso vodka, a lot of chocolate shaved on top.”
It works. It always works.
Where: 10707 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island
Noise Level: No music was playing in the courtyard on my visit, and although there was conversation at more than a dozen tables, my son and I conversed easily.
Vegetarian Options: Any of the fabulous salads can easily become vegetarian; just ask the server to leave off the fish or chicken. There’s also Vegetable Quesadilla, Fried Green Tomatoes and Fried Okra with jalapeno remoulade. Chef Kirby aims to please, so if you ask him to “whip up a vegetarian entrée,” he will be up to the task and the result will be fabulous.
Smoking: Allowed only at the outside bar, not at the tables.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
Prices: Lunch ranges from $4 for Warm Bistro Potato Soup with applewood smoked bacon; to $14 for Pad Thai 217 containing shrimp and chicken. Dinner spans $5 for Classic Caesar Salad to $32 for Grilled Filet Mignon with Jumbo Shrimp, Creamed Spinach, Gruyere Potato Cake and Russian Tarragon Béarnaise.
Check for two: At lunch, about $30 if you don’t have a cocktail; dinner with two appetizers, a bottle of wine, two entrees and shared dessert would run about $100.
The Blue Crab
The Blue Crab, owned by the Divine Dining Group, is opening in the former Gator Krawls location in Pawleys Island. General Manager Jim Rogers says a seafood-heavy menu will be served, and they hope to open by Easter.
Bubba’s Love Shak
On March 5 the staff at Capt. Dave’s Dockside at 4037 U.S. 17 Business in Murrells Inlet christened a new outdoor dining area called Bubba’s Love Shak. It’s named after Jerome “Bubba Love” Smalls, who works next door in the Drunken Jack’s restaurant kitchen. He is a friendly fellow, and now is enshrined at the screened-in spot where lunch and dinner are served daily. Menu items include Fish Tacos, an all-beef _-pound Nathan’s Hot Dog, a Texas-style beef brisket sandwich and Bubbahamian Steamed Fish. Bubba’s Love Shak also has live entertainment; the number is (843) 651-5850.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
For the first time, this season the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are taking their food concessions in-house, and that means many more food specials for hungry baseball fans. More spur-of-the-moment dining specials will be offered, and this year Papa John’s is providing pizza. Other new items include wraps and sweet potato fries. At Monday home games children receive free meals, and from 6-8 p.m. Thursdays draft beers are $1. BB&T Coastal Field is at the intersection of 21st Avenue North and Robert M. Grissom Parkway in Myrtle Beach.
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