I don't even know how to begin to explain the oyster eatery that is Bowens Island Restaurant. I had heard the stories, read the reviews, even drove out there to "check it out" but I still wasn't prepared for the dining experience. Excited? Absolutely. Prepared? Nope! Bowens is located 2 miles before Folly Beach and I have yet to meet a local who doesn't have something to say about this place. That alone makes me want to go for a visit.....better yet, an evening with friends and all of our kids, their son and their friends. So, we did. You won't miss it because on the right side of the road before the turn-off is a sign for the restaurant. Take the right. Go down the paved road seemingly through the marshes. On the right, you will pass this beautiful home:
After passing that house, the road will turn into a dirt trail and you will pass the sign that says City Maintenance Ends Here. At that point, you will pass this house on the right:
You are almost there! If you look out your front window, you can see the water in front of you and you will come to a sign that says: Parking. That parking sign is surrounded by mounds and mounds of oyster shells.
Go right and park in the dirt field. Yep, the one with the great views all around. It wouldn't be a bad idea to stop right here and take a few pictures. We arrived at dusk and the scenery really was amazing!
This last one was actually taken from the top deck of the newer part and not in the parking lot. Bowans has been under reconstruction lately and the "newer" part is still rustic and graffitied but it is also heated with indoor restrooms! We walked out toward the water where the oysters are unloaded after being freshly picked. We could see where people would congregate in the warmer months-sharing oysters, cold drinks and tales of the Lowcountry. Below is the party room used for dinners, weddings, business get-togethers and so on. Too say it is rustic is to do it a disservice. Camping is rustic but Bowans is unique and falls into no category that I have ever experienced!
After taking the two minute, self-guided walking tour, it was time to order. We climbed the stairs to the new section to discover it was heated and cozy and full of people waiting for oysters, watching tv and drinking cold beers. We went to the bar and were handed a laminated sheet of paper that served as our menu. We gave the bartender our order while he jotted it all down on a sheet of paper with our name at the top, got our drinks and headed down below. There were a few tall-boy heaters to take off the chill and in the back of the room was a huge steamer, fire and a oyster cooker/server named Dale. (Thanks, Michelle, for remembering his name!) He was cooking oysters and people were eating them literally by the shovel full as fast as he could make them. This was my first time eating oysters and I had to see the process for myself-luckily he didn't mind explaining it to me!
Also, in this picture and in the next, you can see my gloves in my favorite shade of green-the fact that they matched my scarf was just a fluke. Who dresses to match their oyster shucking gloves?!? Actually, those and my oyster knife were a surprise gift from our dear friends who knew that I would not like the idea of touching the muddy, dirty oyster shells and then eating.....they were, of course, correct!
Two trays of oysters later, I could shuck 'em, drizzle them with hot sauce and eat 'em.....along with a few bites of crab cake, some delicious hush puppies, a few fries and some cole slaw. The fried shrimp were delicious, too!! I don't think you could make a wrong choice at Bowens Island Restaurant-except wearing tight pants! Everything the ten of us ordered was superb and served quickly! I even donated my biggest oyster of the night to Doug.......which he promptly doused in hot sauce and ate!
Bowens is more than a restaurant. It is a South Carolina icon that has served up oysters fresh from the marshes for 64 years and was honored in 2006 with a James Beard Award as an American classic. I didn't go looking for a top designer decorated restaurant with smooth jazz playing in the background and starched linens on each table. I went for the tradition, the history, the landmark, the American classic that is Bowens. I went to eat oysters and learn to shuck them and to enjoy a meal with family and friends. I went to travel out of my comfort zone and try something new. I went to go where the locals go and eat where they eat. And, I had a GREAT time! To quote their website: "To legions of loyal customers, the place could hardly be called a restaurant. The island became a state of mind." Bowens IS a state of mind-as is Charleston, South Carolina and I am so grateful to be here sharing it with my family and my good friends. If you need somewhere new to go, if you are looking to eat where the locals eat, if you are simply looking for a way to enjoy this present day-check out Bowens Island Restaurant. You won't be disappointed!
1870 Bowens Island Rd
Charleston, SC 29412
Phone: (843) 795-2757