Setting the Table
It had always been his “dream” to open a sushi bar at the beach, said Art Burger Sushi Bar owner Larry Bond, “but a bunch of my friends don’t like sushi, so we added burgers.” All smiles on opening day (Oct 28), Bond and a large staff offered a busy lunchtime crowd its first tastes and sights of a restaurant going against the grain.
With a new vision for downtown eateries beyond pizza shacks, honkytonks, and frozen yogurt shops, Bond, who has management experience with the Homegrown Hospitality Group at Rioz, Flying Fish Public Market and Grill, and Capriz Italian Feast, has jumped off the bandwagon with Art. In addition to the gourmet burgers and sushi, there’s the art. Upon entering from the street, you’ll first notice a wall of original art, which will change weekly. Local artists are encouraged to contact Art to schedule a show. Along the south wall of the long but narrow restaurant, 10 flat panels hang, framed with digital art displayed in full-size renderings. On opening day, Van Gogh, Monet and Da Vinci were featured. Because it’s all digital, the art displayed electronically can cover virtually any artist or subject matter, changing with the whim of the owner and his flash drive.
Seating around 60 at booths and tables, and another 12 – 15 at the sushi bar, Art has room to pack ‘em in. Outside, on the oceanfront Boardwalk, small tables could seat another 10 or so patrons. Hip satellite radio played an eclectic mix of rock at a comfortable volume.
Bamboo slatted walls and ceiling help set the Asian tone of the décor, but with the main wall dominated by changing artwork, the restaurant’s ambience can morph dramatically. Two large screens hang above the liquor racks at the full bar, playing ESPN and other sports de jour.
Down the Hatch
The large menu, printed on a wooden painter’s palette, features affordable small plates called “Something To Share.” Art House Fries (regular or sweet potato), fried mozzarella wonton, Ahi tuna lollipops and more, show Art’s creative flair at work. A long list of sushi prepared by a newly arrived to the U.S. Japanese sushi chef, covers most all sushi lover’s authentic favorites, with a few southern-inspired twists such as Fried Chicken Roll, a pulled BBQ Carolina Roll, and even a Burger Roll.
About the burgers. It may be here that Art shines at its brightest. I ordered the El Greco, a half-pound burger topped with a chorizo sausage patty, marinated red peppers, manchego cheese, and microgreens. Served with your choice of house cut fries, sweet potato fries or chopped kale slaw, I chose the latter. The burger was served cooked to order as a masterpiece, full of complex flavors and textures, with the Kale Slaw a nice compliment. Art boasts that all of its chicken, beef and pork are “responsibly raised, hormone and antibiotic-free,” with Web sites listed to visit the farms from where it comes.
Some 16 gourmet burgers are featured ($9 - $13) all named for an artist of renown. The Da Vinci is a falafel burger with hummus, tabbouleh and goddess dressing, the Rembrandt is burger seared in duck fat, and served with confit mushrooms, cheese and Dijon. The Rockwell is, of course, all American. All the burgers can be made with a grilled chicken breast substituted at no additional charge.
Plenty of vegetarian and salad options round out the menu, which remains the same for lunch and dinner. If all this weren’t enough, at the far east end of the bar, owner Bond operates the supposedly only liquid nitrogen blending system in South Carolina. Looking like a mad scientist, he makes homemade ice cream, frozen drinks, and turns any martini into a dippin’ dots styled alcoholic beverage. In a cloud of frozen nitrogen vapor, which drifts harmlessly down the bar, the sealed system blends ingredients using liquid nitrogen at 350-degrees below zero.
My El Greco ($13), a Bud Light draft ($3.50), plus tax and tip set me back $23.54. Not the cheapest lunch on the beach, though I did take half the burger and kale slaw home in a to-go box.
With the summertime crowds gone, and downtown parking easy to find this time of year, Bond hopes to entice locals back to the beach, and with his novel approach, he just might do it.