Southern Narratives

Fresh Off The Boat – T.W. Graham & Co

The T.W. Graham & Co. menu emphasizes locally-sourced seafood straight from the docks, staying rooted to tradition in the sleepy fisherman’s village of McClellanville.

Between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, a stretch of land remains unfazed by the sprawling development that usually comes with being bordered by two major tourist destinations. Known as the Bulls Bay Historic Passage, it’s a wilder side of the Lowcountry heavy with Native American history, pirate lore, and pristine natural habitat thanks to the preserved lands of both the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and the Francis Marion National Forest. Bulls Bay is named after English settler Stephen Bull, whose ship—named the Carolina of course—initially landed on Bulls Island before Bull began the better-known settlement at Charles Towne Landing.

Originally inhabited by the Sewee tribe, the Bulls Bay area along the Santee River was first settled by French Huguenots around 1685 and was organized officially as St. James-Santee Parish in 1706. It was the first parish established in South Carolina outside of Charleston, and the area was prime real estate for growing rice and indigo. One local planter named Archibald McClellan eventually divided his sizable Pointe Plantation into lots and sold them to other planters for them to build summer homes along Jeremy Creek. Following the collapse of the rice industry after the Civil War, both former planters and freed slaves made this little village called McClellanville their home and turned to commercial fishing as their main industry.

The McClellanville of today is everything you would expect from an authentic fishing village. The town somehow untouched by development has evolved naturally, sort of like a garden left to its own devices under the hot South Carolina sun. It is every bit unpretentious, graciously charming, rugged, dripping with history, and luckily still serving up some of the freshest seafood you could ask for.

Smack dap in the middle of the McClellanville seafood scene is T.W. Graham & Co. The building itself has had many lives, mostly as a general and mercantile-type store. The rumor around town is that in the 1920s, you could even buy a coffin here. The T.W. Graham & Co. passed through only two owners before Pete and Claudia Kornack launched a successful seafood restaurant there in 2003. The Kornacks ran the restaurant for about a decade until the business virtually landed in the lap of current owner Patrick Runey. A Charleston native with former experience in the restaurant industry, Runey found himself working in property management and ready to make a change. When he saw the Kornack’s Craigslist ad listing T.W. Graham & Co. restaurant for sale, he jumped at the chance to work for himself.

As a former customer of T.W. Graham & Co., Runey appreciated the menu so much that he kept it mostly the same with a focus on seafood and southern favorites like fried green tomatoes. His own flair comes in the form of small adjustments, like the red rice recipe simply because, as Runey says, “people want bacon.”

People also want seafood, and here it doesn’t get any more local. T.W. Graham & Co. gets clams from Livingston Bulls Bay Seafood and shrimp from Carolina Seafood, both just down the street. For other seafood that isn’t available from McClellanville, Runey doesn’t venture further than South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida, besides his scallops that are flown in from Rhode Island.

Must-haves on the menu here are the fried baby clams, the whole fried flounder available on Friday and Saturday nights, or the shrimp, crab, and corn chowder—that’s all in one bowl, folks. Runey and his Johnson & Wales-trained chef Lisle Millard, concoct seasonal specials like Creek Cakes, a shrimp and scallop cake served with a cream or honey Dijon sauce. The desserts are nothing to sniff at either, with options like homemade key lime, pecan pie, and their famous Pawleys Island Pie made with chocolate chip, pecans, and cookie dough.

T.W. Graham & Co. is located at 810 Pinckney Street in McClellanville and is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and Thursday through Saturday for dinner.

By Grace Nelson