The parking lot in front of Books-A-Million at Inlet Square mall was filled to bursting Sunday night as more than 800 people crowded into the food court for the second Taste of the Inlet.
The event, a fundraiser for Murrells Inlet 2020, allowed locals to try dishes from Murrells Inlet and Garden City Beach restaurants and chefs to showcase their signature dishes. Eateries served up hors d’oeuvres, tapas and heavy appetizers for a few tickets each.
This is the second year for the foodie festival, and participants said it was even busier than last year.
“The people in Murrells Inlet have a very strong sense of community, a very strong bond,” said Lynne Parks, a Murrells Inlet resident volunteering with the event. “This sort of thing helps people stay connected, even in the winter.”
The featured eateries hail from all around Murrells Inlet, boasting dishes from the MarshWalk to restaurants right off of U.S. Highway 17 Bypass. Wahoo’s Fish House, Salt Water Creek Cafe and Bovine’s Carolina Tavern were just three of more than 16 inlet restaurants catering the event.
“It’s a bigger crowd than last year,” said Anita Foster, owner of Crooked Floor Tavern. “We’ve seen a lot of our local people here, and some new faces as well.”
Crooked Floor served up a new dish – crab avocado mango crostini – which flew off the table to the pleasure of general manager Justin Wood. The restaurant opened up too late for last year’s Murrells Inlet Oyster Roast, but plans to be an integral part of all future events.
“We got a late start in mid-July, so we’ve got some catching up to do,” Wood said.
Beverages, which included beer, wine and sodas, were provided by area vendors as well; Landshark Lager, New South Brewing and Pepsi Cola Bottling were on hand to provide guests with tasty drinks.
Lazy Gator’s table drew a long line of guests with their homemade fudge in a handful of flavors for two tickets each. Kelly Donovan, who does marketing for the store, said the bakers had been working on fudge batches since Wednesday in order to have enough.
This is the first year Lazy Gator has participated in Taste of the Inlet, though Donovan said they’d “definitely be back next year.”
The event also was sponsored by Monarch Roofing and Quantum Communications.
Kelly Dorman, owner of Lee’s Inlet Kitchen, said the local eatery participated in the fundraiser because of the sense of community it inspires.
“It’s just a great community event, it’s kind of like a big block party,” Dorman said. “It’s inside, which is good, because everyone is comfortable.”
Advance tickets sold out several days before the event, but tickets still were sold at the door for $12. Beverage and taste tickets could be bought inside, with food and dessert tickets ranging from $2 to $4.
John Hayden and his wife, Kyle, just moved from New York to Surfside Beach and were out getting a sense of the community on Sunday.
“We went to the [Taste of the Town] in Myrtle Beach, which was much bigger, but this is really nice,” Kyle Hayden said. “We’re just testing out the waters here – seeing if we like the South in the winter – but we’re enjoying ourselves.”
“There’s not many things going on during Pro Bowl Sunday,” John Hayden said through laughter.
Though only in it’s second year of Taste of the Inlet, Murrells Inlet 2020 is no stranger to food-based events. Each November the group is host to the Murrells Inlet Oyster Roast, a creek-front tradition of steamed oysters, burgers and wings. Dates for this year’s roast are not yet set.
All proceeds benefit Murrells Inlet 2020, a nonprofit community organization focused on revitalizing the community and preserving the Murrells Inlet Creek. For more information on the organization, visit their website at www.murrellsinletsc.com.