One might be forgiven if, upon hearing that a new pirate-themed restaurant had opened downtown just a block east of the Market, one was a little skeptical. I've been to that kind of restaurant before, one might think. Waiters in poofy shirts and scarves, saying "arrgh" a lot and slinging around platters of previously-frozen chicken fingers and thin, overdone steaks.
And one would be wrong. This is Charleston, not Myrtle Beach. When we do a pirate restaurant, we do it right. The Buccaneer is without a doubt the world's most thoroughly-authentic pirate restaurant, and it is everything one would hope a pirate restaurant could be.
Children and tourists will take delight in the pirate artifacts that adorn the walls such as cannons, tankards, engravings, and coins — and, yes, they are authentic, from one of the largest private collections in the country. Those of a green bent will be glad to know that the Buccaneer is the first restaurant in the state to have the full endorsement of the Green Restaurant Association. Which means they recycle all the glass, plastic, and paper used in the restaurant; use unbleached and biodegradable cups, bags, and to-go containers; and have energy- and water-saving kitchen equipment.
And those who like to eat will find something to like, too.
The restaurant has a heavily-themed décor, but its menu is full of surprises. Let's start with the cocktails. There is the expected smattering of peach daiquiris and strawberry margaritas, but there are also plenty of offerings that keep with the restaurant's pirate and seafaring theme and are also genuinely interesting drinks. These include a classic Dark & Stormy (with the proper Gosling's Black Seal Bermudan rum and ginger beer), the Legendary Painkiller (three whopping ounces of Pusser's Rum with pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut milk, and a little nutmeg grated over the top), and two drinks made with the restaurant's house-brewed cucumber lemonade: the Blunderbuss (with Hendrick's Gin) and the Crazy Arnold (with Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka).
A curious eater will pause over the appetizer menu, too. The pan-roasted chicken livers ($6.50) are served with Benton's country ham, hominy, caramelized onions, and pan gravy. The house-made bread and butter pickles ($2) are delicately sweet and delicious. The Captain's Relish Tray ($8) delivers a variety of little treats such as celery logs stuffed with an excellent house-made pimiento cheese, creamy deviled eggs topped with tiny shreds of Benton's country ham, and peppadews stuffed with a cured-beef and cream cheese filling. These are little round red peppers — introduced to the American market just a few years ago from South Africa — that are sweet and just a little spicy, and when filled with the creamy spread, they make for a tangy, piquant little mouthful.
The pan-roasted mussels ($9) are big and juicy, and they're served in a large bowl with a savory broth that blends chardonnay, garlic, tomato, and herbs with a ton of capers. The stuffed collard appetizer ($8) is one of those dishes that is so close to being good that it's frustrating. The preparation is novel: minced shrimp and tasso blended with rice and rolled in collard leaves, which are then simmered in chicken stock. The texture of the finished bundle is perfect — tight and chewy when you bite into it, then soft and tender in the middle. The chicken broth infuses the mixture and lends a pleasing richness, but the spice from the tasso is so biting and strong that it overwhelms everything else and keelhauls the whole dish.
The entrée menu focuses on seafood, steaks, and what might be called Lowcountry fusion. The lobster with lobster macaroni and cheese ($18) has a base of dome-shaped orecchiette pasta that is blended with lobster meat in a white, creamy cheese sauce. This is served in a little cast iron pan with three broiled lobster tails over the top and drizzled with truffle oil. It's a luxurious, satisfying combination, and the crispy bread crumbs that top everything add a nice bit of contrasting texture.
The roasted chicken ($11) will also make you pause. It's brined in sweet tea before being rubbed with herbs and roasted. The tea brine gives the meat a dark, sweet flavor that is both unusual and pleasing, but the entrée is sunk by the same failing as the shrimp-stuffed collards: overseasoning. The salt and herbs from the exterior overwhelm everything else, stomping right over the more understated tea flavor. The speckled butter beans served alongside it were in the same unfortunate boat: tender and cooked in a flavorful pork-tinged broth but also infused with way, way too much spice.
But, I guess, pirates were never known for subtlety.
The Buccaneer is the latest creation from the folks behind Queen Anne's Revenge and McCrady's, and they poured some serious booty into the building. It's a restored warehouse with lots of exposed antique brick and stone floors. You enter into a lobby that doubles as a small pirate museum, then pass through original brick archways into a large dining room that's dominated by a thousand-gallon circular salt water tank and a massive antique cannon. The brown wood tables and chairs are stout and heavy, and the tables in the big booths along the wall are held up by thick black chains hanging from the ceiling.
The Buccaneer is a good spot to keep on your list for those relatives from out of town that you never quite know what to do with. It's located off a narrow cobblestone street downtown, convenient for an afternoon stroll along Waterfront Park, and it has lots of accents and details that they won't see anywhere else. The kids and in-laws will be kept occupied by the pirate artifacts and the big fish tank, while the grown-ups can enjoy proper cocktails and a meal that won't bore them to death. And, despite your best intentions, you will find yourself saying, "arrgh, mateys" at least once. It can't be avoided.