Food & Drink

Review: The Blind Pelican’s seafood will transport you to a coastal frame of mind

The Blind Pelican’s low country style shrimp and grits.
The Blind Pelican’s low country style shrimp and grits. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Summer was over way too fast. You’re back in the grind now, and on your way to work every morning, you can’t stop daydreaming about that beach vacation, wishing you were still there.

Have I got the restaurant for you. Step inside The Blind Pelican, and you’d almost swear you’re in a seafood shack on the shore.

Looking past the tower of oyster shells just inside the entrance, you take in walls covered in nautical maps, buoys in every imaginable shape and color, lobster traps repurposed as pendant lights, and on a shelf behind the bar, a sculpture of a reclining mermaid. At the center of the dining room, signs at the top of a column wrapped in license plates point the way to destinations up and down the coast from Kennebunkport to Key West.

More to the point from a seafood lover’s standpoint, a roll of paper towels on each rustic plank tabletop is a promising sign. A chalkboard above the bar lists the catch of the day, as well as current market prices of oysters, peel & eat shrimp, and snow crab. Clearly, there’s some serious shucking and shell-cracking going on here.

The Old Bay-dusted shrimp are a favorite, and deservedly so. The oysters — Blue Points from New Jersey on one occasion recently, and Alpines from P.E.I. on another — are another worthy option, as a bustling dining room during $1 oyster happy hours (weekdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.) will attest.

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The Blind Pelican in Holly Springs has a full bar that includes oyster shooters. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Once the sun is over the yardarm, any of three oyster shooter variations should get you in a coastal frame of mind. I’m partial to the Gulfside: tequila, lime and a mere whisper of Tabasco, served in a salt-rimmed glass with a half shell oyster on the side. Then again, you can also count on any of The Blind Pelican’s “Boat Drinks” — a classic mojito, say, or a riff on a Barbados rum punch called Jolly Mon — to set the mood.

The nightly fish special is a keeper, judging by the pink snapper I landed one Friday night. Beached on a dune of rice and sautéed summer squash and zucchini, the fish was carpeted in a drift of chimichurri sauce, cherry tomatoes and sweet corn. Other recent catches have trawled a broad expanse of the Atlantic shoreline from grilled swordfish to mustard-glazed mahi.

The chalkboard alone offers sufficient temptation to set sail for Holly Springs. Venture into the waters of the regular menu, though, and you’ll need to navigate carefully.

If you’re craving crab, don’t be lured onto the shoals of a bland crab dip with more bits of artichoke than crabmeat. Chart your course instead for pan-seared Maryland crab cakes made almost entirely of lump and backfin crabmeat, held together by little more than an egg and a prayer.

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The Southwest seasoned mahi mahi is served over rice with black bean salsa on the specials menu at The Blind Pelican in Holly Springs. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

You can get that lacy-crusted crab cake on a sandwich, too. That is, if you don’t succumb to the siren call of the lobster roll, which is plenty generous with the lobster (as it should be for $19) on a proper toasted split-top bun. I’d go for the warm, butter-drenched Connecticut-style roll rather than the Maine lobster roll, which can be heavy-handed with the mayo and salt.

I’d also steer clear of the fried seafood baskets, which are overpriced (a smallish basket of grouper and oysters will set you back $27) and tend to be overcooked. Cast your net instead for shrimp and grits with andouille sausage and tricolor peppers in a savory gravy over creamy grits. Or Ted Williams shrimp, baked in garlic butter and lemon, with your choice of two sides. Make hushpuppies one of them.

Spring for one of the homemade desserts, and you’re in for smooth sailing, whether you opt for the sweet-tart key lime pie on a graham cracker crust or the summer berry compote served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The Blind Pelican is the brain child of My Way Tavern owners Andrew and Nikki Stafford, who were inspired by a trip to the Florida Keys in the summer of 2015. They opened The Blind Pelican in April, teaming up with chef Michael Flood, a 20-plus year veteran of several area country clubs, and most recently chef for PNC Arena and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Just looking around at all the personal touches in the dining room — a communal table made from planks salvaged from a pier destroyed by Hurricane Michael, a wall covered in photos of fishing friends and customers with their catches — it’s clear that The Blind Pelican is more than just an investment for the partners. It’s an effort to share their love for the seashore with the community.

By and large, they’ve already succeeded. Sitting at that communal table with an oyster shooter and a crab cake sandwich in front of you, you can practically feel the sand between your toes.

The Blind Pelican

120 Bass Lake Road, Holly Springs

984-225-2471

blindpelicanseafood.com

Cuisine: seafood

Rating: 2 and a half stars

Prices: $$$

Atmosphere: seafood shack

Noise level: moderate to high

Service: friendly and attentive

Recommended: crab cakes, shrimp and grits, anything on the specials board

Open: Lunch and dinner daily.

Reservations: not accepted

Other: full bar; accommodates children; minimal vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot.

The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: 5 stars: Extraordinary. 4 stars: Excellent. 3 stars: Above average. 2 stars: Average. 1 star: Fair.

The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $20. $$$ Entrees $21 to $30. $$$$ Entrees more than $30.

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