Despite the fact that we grew up in a coastal southern city and access to some of the best fresh seafood restaurants in the world, my younger sister loves to eat at the chains. She lives in Hilton Head, which also has some wonderful seafood, but will elect to drive to Savannah and eat at Red Lobster. In Charleston, she swears the crab legs at the Noisy Oyster or Crab Shack are better than the ones we can get at dining establishments on the water. I used to resist, but now - with the 18-month-old nephew who requires a high chair and as many packages of Saltines as it takes to leave a cracker dust pile you have to step over - I no longer voice my disapproval when she picks a restaurant.
And that is how I ended up at one of the chains on Rivers Avenue this weekend, gazing at a platter of "fresh" oysters, none bigger than a nickel. But did I complain? No. I piled them six at a time on a cracker with hot sauce and ate two cracker's worth for a mere $8.99. My mother didn't fare quite as well, after ordering "shrimp & grits" and getting a lumpy mass in a bowl that looked like it was topped off with brown gravy from a jar. I tasted it because she made me and the best thing I could say was "gelatinous." I think it was payback for mom teaching the nephew to drink out of a straw, resulting in him going into freakout mode anytime anyone has a drink with a straw in it and won't share. Freakout mode comes complete with whining so high-pitched I thought he was communicating with the tank lobsters, followed by sobbing into his arms folded on the table (which made everyone in the restaurant immediately freeze and offer him a sip from THEIR straws). I think grandma deserves a bad lunch for that one.
Katie gets the same thing every time: snow crab legs. With butter. She cracks them first, depositing the crab meat INTO THE BUTTER BOWL, then eating the whole mess when she's done. I've learned not to comment, first because she's my sister and it makes her happy, and second, because she's vindictive and I would be likely have an empty crab claw or leg secreted in the lining of my shoulder bag, only to be found when the smell got so bad I had to locate the source by tearing the bag apart. Not that it's happened, I'm just sayin'.
In case you're planning on venturing forth, a few words of advice:
Fish isn't supposed to smell like fish. If it does, don't eat it.
Friday night is "Redneck Date Night" at Red Lobster. Unless you're a redneck on a date, it's best to avoid the Land of The Lobsterita in the Take Home Glass.
Don't get into it with the waitress about whether or not the restaurant uses local seafood. They don't and she doesn't care. If you care, you shouldn't be eating there.
Never enter the bathroom. Trust me, you don't want to go in there. Ask for a moist towelette for your hands and hold it until you get home.
And ordering raw oysters in a month without an "R"? Shuck at your own risk.