Story and photo
by Becky Billingsley
It is unusual for an executive chef to work at a restaurant as long as Pierce Culliton has been at Frank's, but he is going on his 23rd year. He says he was lucky to "start at the top of the ladder" when Frank's owners, Salters and Elizabeth "Woofie" McClary, hired him for the position shortly after they opened in 1988.
Culliton raised a family - he and his wife have three children ages 12 to 23 - and became a grandfather during his tenure at Frank's. All the while his reputation for creative American cuisine grew to legendary status because his skills are always being honed. He travels and dines and learns - recently he has visited New York City, St. John's and Boston - and brings fresh ideas home to his staff of 14 cooks and their grateful diners.
But despite his accolades through winning awards, guest-cheffing at other nationally prestigious restaurants and receiving prominent notations in esteemed travel literature, his work coat is embroidered with the simple appellation of "Chef."
"Woofie has taken over a lot of the paperwork so I can be more hands-on," he says in his usual quiet and understated way. "I like being a chef."
Married 25 years now, the McClarys have three daughters who attend Lowcountry Prep School and participate in surfing competitions held throughout the East Coast. Woofie trains for and participates in international triathalons, and Salters is in charge of photographically recording his ladies' travels and adventures.
Chef Culliton's children also attend Lowcountry Prep, and both he and the McClarys volunteer and cook lunch there on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They also host an annual fund-raiser for the Smith Medical Clinic Fund that raises more than $100,000 per year for the uninsured and underinsured of Georgetown County.
How Frank's came into existence is local legend. The building was Marlow's Supermarket, a community hub for gas, groceries and gossip from the 1930s through most of the 1980s. Salters McClary worked there as a young man, bagging groceries and doing whatever needed done for the gregarious cigar-smoking owner, Frank Marlow.
When Marlow decided to retire, the McClarys were newlyweds with fresh college degrees. They leased the building and transformed it into Frank's Restaurant: a genteel world of wood and stone, crystal and mirrors, tradition and innovation. They worked long hours in every facet of the business - sometimes even sleeping on the banquettes - as they and their staff laid the foundation for a stellar reputation. Many of those original employees, such as Edell Holmes, are still working at Frank's, and several more have been there more than 15 years.
In 1992 the McClarys expanded into the property behind Frank's to create Frank's Outback: a diaphanous al fresco dining area with a waterfall and gigantic fireplace, well-tended plants, sheer drapes and twinkling lights that add punctuations of festivity. Between the two restaurants and their cozy bars some 250 guests can enjoy the sultry and suave ambiance.
Maintaining their reputation for excellence keeps the McClarys busy. Woofie has a long and narrow office behind the Frank's kitchen where Salters built her a customized desk and shelves. He is a licensed contractor, and from his office in an outbuilding (known as Salter's Dog House) he makes plans for the restaurants' continual upkeep and improvements, which he then executes with his own hands.
With exacting standards for the food and setting, of course Frank's and Outback provide impeccable service. Their wait staff is known worldwide for unobtrusive professionalism and promptness.
What's to eat
While maintaining quality in every aspect of the Frank's experience is of utmost importance to the McClarys, seafood is a particular point of pride. Their shrimp comes from Bull's Bay, and fish is fresh off the many boats maintained by Seven Seas Seafood in Murrells Inlet.
Locally sourced ingredients and the chef's deft touch have created legendary dishes such as Pan Fried Cornmeal and Black Pepper Encrusted Grouper with Shrimp over Fried Johnsonville Grits in Creamy Dijon Three Peppercorn Sauce; or Sautéed Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Risotto, Broccolini and Whole Grain Mustard Aioli.
But while old favorites can be counted on, the menus are always evolving. Recently Frank's added a Chophouse Menu featuring USDA Prime steaks such as a 9-ounce Barrel Cut Filet and a 30-ounce Porterhouse for Two. Traditional Chophouse side dishes are also offered, including Lyonnaise Potatoes, Creamed Fresh Spinach, and luscious steak sauces like Red Wine Demi-glace and Roquefort Butter.
Another new option on the Frank's menu is small plates that can each fully satisfy a light appetite. Some couples or groups delight in ordering several of them to share, such as Twin Short Loin Lamb Chops with Garlic Mashed Potatoes; Creamy Lobster and Asparagus Risotto with Peas and Parmesan Reggiano; Duck Leg Confit on Fried Cheese Grits; or Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Crispy Pancetta, Asparagus and Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese.
Even the salads at Frank's are memorably creative, like a whole head of Grilled Romaine plated with roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, fresh Parmesan flakes, a drizzle of sweet balsamic syrup and a topper of exceedingly fresh anchovies.
At Frank's Outback the same exacting culinary standards are employed. A few dishes are repeated from the Frank's menu, but the majority of offerings is uniquely Outback, from Spinach Salad with Fried Goat Cheese Balls and Bacon Buttermilk Dressing to Potato Gnocchi with pulled chicken in rich chicken stock, cream, chopped tomato and Parmesan; or a half-pound USDA Prime Burger with apple wood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, roasted portabello mushroom and sharp white Cheddar cheese on a ciabatta roll.
Outback has its own set of appetizers and small plates, which are especially popular with the lively regular bar crowd. Must-tries include a tapenade-like spread of roasted garlic, olives, capers and extra virgin olive oil; House-made Jalapeno Pimento Cheese with freshly baked brick oven Parmesan flatbread; Tempura Fried Flounder with two dipping sauces; and a 4-ounce beef filet stuffed with gorgonzola and served with red wine demi-glace and garlic custard.
Families routinely gather to enjoy Outback wood-fired pizzas with extravagant topping combinations like chicken, brie and jack cheeses, bacon, portabello mushrooms and spinach; or chicken, shrimp, Parmesan and feta cheeses and red peppers on a whole wheat crust with spicy garlic olive oil.
In addition to maintaining interesting menus, the Frank's team is constantly thinking of fun and budget-friendly promotions. On Mondays there are cheese plates at happy hour; every other Wednesday Chef Culliton has cooking classes in the courtyard that involve learning, dining and sipping samples from Frank's impeccable wine list; and Thursdays and Fridays are reserved for live jazz. Also on Thursdays there is a three-course meal offer for $30, and a new event is Tossup Tuesdays at Frank's for parties of four or fewer when the server will flip a coin, and if it comes up heads the food is discounted by 50 percent.
"It's always fun, always different and always exciting," Woofie says, "and we wouldn't be where we are if we didn't have good people behind us who care about this business."
Frank's and Outback
Where: 10434 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island
Noise Level: Frank's is almost a living entity with lulls and bursts of varying levels, but you never have to shout to be heard.
Vegetarian Options: Vegetable Pizza; Four Cheese Pizza; Pimento Cheese; Fried Okra with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli; many luxurious salads; Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter; Italian White Bean, Prosciutto and Artichoke Crostini; and Crispy Eggplant Scaloppini with Roasted Portabello Mushroom, Roasted Red Peppers, Fresh Mozzarella and Rustic Marinara.
Smoking: Allowed Outback at the bar; all dining areas are smoke-free. Cigar smokers are welcome in the courtyard.
Hours: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Outback is closed on Mondays.
Prices: Appetizers are $2-$8.50; small plates $8-$17; salads $4-$10.50; pizzas $13-$15; entrees $24-$30; chop house steaks $39-$75.
Check for Two: If you have one appetizer, one small plate, two entrees and two glasses of wine, expect a bill of about $100. If you go for the pizza, a salad and a couple of beers, the tab will be about $35.
Sub Shop Adding Pizza
It was August 2009 when Stephanie and Ian Edmonds opened Pawleys Subs & Grill in Pawleys Plaza, and recently they sold the restaurant to Dave Giorlando. However, the Edmonds will still work there when it reopens in a couple of weeks as Gio's Pizza and Subs. Giorlando says his mother, Sharon Giorlando, will also be on-site making her from-scratch sauces. The restaurant is getting a complete remodel, including a new kitchen.
Next door to the sub shop in Pawleys Plaza, China Buffet closed its doors for good on Dec. 2. It had also been open a little more than a year.
Dining Duo Deals
J.D.'s Steakhouse & Pasta at 9674 Ocean Highway in Pawleys Island has a daily early dining special from 4-6 p.m. where two diners can get two complete meals for $19 with the purchase of any two beverages.
Soup or salad and a hot loaf of bread are included, and a few of the entree choices are a 6-ounce Prime Rib and a side dish; Grilled Chicken Marsala and a side; Lasagna; and Shrimp Roma.
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