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Sushi gains ground on the Strand

It's a Tuesday night, but it feels like a just-got-paid Friday night at Indo in Myrtle Beach.

The place is packed, and people are gravitating toward a star.

It's sushi, and every customer has it somewhere on his or her table.

Who knew rice and seaweed would become partners to entice countless folks into a meal wrapped around their favorite foods of choice?

"We are cool, hip and happening," Ann Schmitt said as she dined on sushi with her husband, Rich, "and so is sushi."

Sushi is A-list food eaten by people of all grades.

People deemed cool, kind, nice and nasty all dig sushi.

On the Grand Strand, sushi is on the heels of chicken and gaining ground.

Sushi arguably has more personality than chicken - it looks like artwork, it is enjoyed raw or cooked and carnivores and herbivores adore it.

Plus, sushi is showing up in places chicken thought it owned.

You can find sushi in the deli sections of supermarkets, on the menus of fancy eateries, prominently displayed on Chinese buffets and up front at Japanese steakhouses.

Let's not forget sushi goes places chicken rarely visits, including fish markets and sushi bars, where it reigns supreme.

"Sushi is just different," said Robert Shelley, a Myrtle Beach resident who eats sushi once every week. "It's got a whole different taste, and I think it's addicting. I look forward to my sushi kick every Monday night."

The first time Shelley ate sushi was 16 years at Nakato Japanese Steakhouse on Restaurant Row. The restaurant, which began serving sushi more than 30 years ago, was the only sushi place in the Myrtle Beach area.

Now, Shelley eats sushi around the globe. Several weeks ago, he ate sushi in Costa Rica.

Sugami in Myrtle Beach, however, is where he is every Monday, around 6:30 p.m., with buddies. Together, they feast on about $150 of sushi.

"Around election time, there are more politicians around that sushi table than you can shake a stick at," Shelley said.

The social scene is a big draw for sushi fans that enjoy the eclectic mix of people and energy that has become characteristic of sushi bars.

The diehard fans arrive early enough to cop a table close to the sushi bar or sit at the sushi bar to watch chefs work.

And boy, do they toil.

Shozo Sakata, sushi chef at Emi Bistro & Sushi Bar in Pawleys Island, goes through an average of 100 pounds of rice in a typical week.

Eric Lin, a sushi chef at Jay's Asian Fusion in Longs, can make more than 300 rolls a day without breaking form or a sweat.

"I think people love sushi because it is fresh and healthy for their bodies," Lin said.

Still, sushi, just like chicken, has good and bad aspects.

"It's low-fat food, and it has tons of vitamins and minerals from the seaweed," said Leslie Milligan, chief clinical dietitian at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center and a sushi lover. "The seaweed has Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, zinc and iodine. It's healthy, as long as you don't get it fried - no tempura."

Children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems should always consume cooked sushi because there are microorganisms in the raw fish, Milligan added.

Still, in spite of its flaws, sushi is still seen as sensible and sensational by its admirers.

"Sushi has good things in it," Ann Schmitt said before picking up a roll with her chopsticks. "I'd rather eat sushi than take a pill."