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Dining al fresco, again

After one of the coldest winters in recent memory on our beach, the spring weather is being greeted in many ways and with open arms. It seems that overnight our beaches have been charged back to life with sun bathers, miniature golf crowds and our roads have become bustling with a melting pot of license tags. I think we are all inviting each of these with optimistic eyes that the summer is going to be a good one for our tourist community.

For many locals, the first stretch of warm weather means starting that endless summer tan and eating plenty of meals outside. One of the best parts about the food scene in Myrtle Beach is the abundance of al fresco dining. No matter what style of food or the size of your budget, there is a place to dine outdoors that will blow you away.

At Cricket Cove Marina in Little River there is a little gem of a place to eat great food outside and watch the boats cruise down the waterway. Snooky's Casual Waterfront Dining is everything you need in scenery and great food. It's quaint and quirky, but it's perfect for flip-flops and a bathing suit. The biggest shock was the food that was put out. With expectations of typical marina fare, I was very happy to receive dishes such as Cast Iron Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with Vodka Cocktail Sauce and the Fried Green Tomato Baquette with apple wood smoked bacon. It is the perfect lunch. If you are taking in a nice sunset, the entrees range from Mediterranean Grouper to Snooky's version of Steak Oscar. This place reinvents the idea of quick boat food with a giant exclamation point. If you happen to save room for dessert, order the Key Lime Pie. You will not regret the decision to splurge a little.

Another hidden treasure that is a long-time local favorite is Joe's Bar and Grill in the Windy Hill section of the beach (not to be confused with Hamburger Joe's directly across the way). Joe's Bar and Grill is tucked away behind the Olive Garden directly across from Barefoot Landing, but don't let that discourage you. Joe's sits directly on the marsh and still gets the warm ocean breeze on the back deck. The food and drink are as good as you'll find around here and is often prepared by owner and operator, Joey Arakas. The back deck has its own bar, a fireplace for those early or late season rogue chills and plenty of wildlife to keep you entertained. Arakas probably gives away more bread to feed the raccoons than he serves at the tables, but he doesn't seem to mind. The Prime Rib is spectacular at Joe's, but the real star is the seafood. The nightly specials are, often, locally caught fish prepared delicately and with little fuss to let the fresh flavors shine through. The taste of Red Snapper drizzled with capers and a beurre blanc sauce still lingers on my taste buds. The range in style from Classic French preparations to traditional Lowcountry cooking has made the quaint back deck one of my favorite places to eat. I'm a little bit wary of telling people about this spot because I like my seat at the bar.

If you are local and haven't been living under a rock, you already know about the The Boathouse Waterway Bar and Grill. Most know it for the summer concert series on Sundays where hoards of people gather to watch some of the best regional and national musical acts perform for free. That's right, for free. The waterway is bottlenecked with boats and the lawn is strewn with beach chairs and blankets. There is really nothing like it in our area.

However, if you are looking for some seriously good pub grub, The Boathouse is your place as well. The chefs prepare the usual suspects for bar food very well, but their riffs on old bar classics are some of my personal favorites. If your appetite is bold, the Open Faced Meatloaf sandwich will give you plenty of insulation for a long day of cold beverages. The Shrimp BLT is a great standby for my taste, as is the Chicken and Avocado Club. Both are light, yet filling at the same time. The real expertise from the kitchen is boasted through the entrees. Shrimp and Grits, Rosemary Chicken or Grilled Grouper give you enough to contemplate while you enjoy some Fried Pickles. I thought it was odd to find these dishes on the menu at a place known more for its ice cold beer than its cooking. However, sitting on the waterway with a nice plate of Boathouse Shrimp and Grits gets me every time. Just because a place throws an amazing party on Sunday, doesn't mean it can't relax when it comes to food.

This time of year is a favorite for many of the locals on the beach, and with good reason. More specifically, this year we are celebrating what we hope will be a great summer season. Outdoor dining remains a great attraction for Myrtle Beach and with places like these putting up consistently good food, who can deny that we do al fresco better than most?

Cheers!

Kevin Hoover, a local food and beverage manager, is engaged in the endless pursuit of the perfect cocktail and dining experience. Check out his blog at lushlifeonline.com.

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