Intro to Charles Towne 101: Bowen’s Island Restaurant

By | October 18, 2010

Dear fellow parents!  If you’re like us, you’ve already experienced  move-in days, Parents Weekends and graduations in those gastronomically-challenged college and prep school hinterlands, where the education is great but the food is fair-to-lousy. Not so in scrumptous Charleston, S.C.!

One of the unexpected pleasures about having a child at the C of C is that you, as parents, have an excuse to visit this “insanely beautiful city,” as Travel + Leisure describes it. (In 2010, Travel + Leisure’s readers named Charleston #3 among US cities in its World’s Best poll, following New York and San Francisco.)

A bit of back story: For 15 years, our son Morgan Keim,‘10 vied mightily for the title of World’s Pickiest Eater. But somewhere during his sophomore year, he morphed into an adventurous gourmand. Whether due to his first Hospitality & Tourism course; the inevitable seduction of Charleston’s legendary shrimp and grits; Melvin’s pit barbeque or simply a 15-year acute case of hunger, we’ll never know for sure. We just know that, now, when he makes a restaurant recommendation, we promptly make reservations.

INTRO TO CHARLES TOWNE 101 doesn’t have a syllabus and you’ll receive no credits. Each Parent Insider, we simply hope to introduce you to a tantalizing Charleston establishment.

BOWENS ISLAND RESTAURANT 1870 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston, SC 29412 Telephone: (843) 795-2757 Open Tuesday – Saturday for dinner only 5 – 10 p.m.

Be sure to schedule at least one visit in a month with an “R” because the Charleston experience isn’t complete without sampling the legendary steamed oysters at Bowens Island Restaurant. And if you’re not a fan of bi-valves, there are equally yummy entrees of fried shrimp, Frogmore stew (a seafood boil), crab cakes and even chicken strips for the resolutely unadventurous.

But you won’t get anything but the oysters loaded up on a snow shovel straight from the fire pit. Be sure to find a table with a “chuck hole” in it as you’ll be shucking your own and tossing the empty shells in the hole. The oysterman works for tips only, so the word is that you tip him first, as you place your order, for the optimal oyster experience.

The “restaurant,” such as it was when we visited (the main restaurant burned in a fire in 2006 and I’m told a new building has just opened) puts new meaning to “no frills.” In describing the “bizarre nature of the place,” the Post and Courier opined: “Covered in graffiti, strewn with random objects and dead televisions, this is indeed a place that must be experienced to be understood. Sitting on the back porch on a fall day with a frosty can of Bud and a tray full of oysters, it will make perfect sense.” It’s worth it to come just for the sunset.

If you’re used to dressing up for dinner….DON’T! As Morgan says, “Bowens caters to the camo-wearing crowd. It’s a place where sandals are not only accepted but encouraged.” But don’t be fooled by appearances, the 60-year-old family-owned restaurant has garnered raves from none less than the New York Times and won a James Beard Award in 2006. Morgan learned of it when Anthony Bourdain, of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations, paid a visit.

You’ll be handed terry towels of dubious quality as sort of a combo napkin/hand-wiping device. Bottled beers are most often purchased by the bucket. They also have wines, craft beers, soft drinks and sweet tea. Cocktail sauce, that’s not that spicy (I’d tuck my own bottle of horseradish in my pocket, if I were you) is provided in old Gatorade or Pepsi bottles. The ambience here can best be described as “ad hoc.”

Bottomless steamed oysters (in season) are currently $21.50; crab cakes (also seasonal) are $19. Most other entrees range from $10.50 to $19, and all include hush puppies, French fries and coleslaw. The local seafood is as fresh as fresh gets. In season, they actually go out and harvest the oysters every day, and next to the restaurant is a shrimp fleet. According to Morgan, “Steamed oysters differ from raw ones in that the proteins coagulate as the oyster steams. The result is that the oyster has more of a mussel’s texture, succulently juicy. Charleston steamed oysters have their own distinctive flavor. They are soooo good!”

Getting There: A little over 9 miles from the Addlestone Library, Bowens Island Restaurant is approximately 17 minutes from the College. If you have a GPS, now’s the time to use it. It’s not exactly difficult to find but signage is not their strong suit. Chad, a Yelp-er from Charlotte suggests: “On the way to Folly Beach, you’ll see a run-down billboard that points the way down a road that isn’t all that well maintained (and then isn’t maintained at all, and turns into a dirt road). At the end of the road, it just turns into a parking lot and then you have arrived at the best seafood in the area.”


  • Francis Marion Hotel (walking distance to campus) offers room discount to College of Charleston parents and families.  Visit or call the concierge at (843) 722-0600.
  • Distances to area Wal-mart and Target stores from campus: Mount Pleasant 5.3 miles and James Island 6.7 miles.
  • Cab service from airport – Black Cab (1-800-Black-Cab) and Green Taxi (843. 577.0125) provide affordable and reliable taxi service from Charleston International Airport to downtown Charleston.
  • Upper King Design District offers CofC Passport for parents and families – check out hot, new restaurants to enjoy with your kids at

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