Poe’s Tavern was the first restaurant I visited in South Carolina, literally within an hour of my arrival in the Lowcountry. It’s in a secluded spot for someone who’s not used to jumping islands for food, on Sullivan’s Island next to Mt. Pleasant. Poe’s is named after the famous (infamous?) author Edgar Allen Poe, who was stationed briefly at Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s. (His stint at Moultrie even inspired one of his short stories, “The Golden-Bug,” about a mystical beetle that led to buried treasure.) Poe’s Tavern is famous for its burgers. I think it should be famous for its ambience, as well, and no matter who comes to visit me—be it family or friend—he or she consistently requests, “Let’s go to Poe’s for dinner.” It’s inevitable, and frankly, it should be.
Poe’s Tavern is always packed. Any day, any time of day, any month of any year…you’re going to be hard-pressed to find seating. This is perpetuated by the seat yourself policy at Poe’s, which leads to blocked doorways and stairwells—by tourists and locals alike—awaiting his or her own POE BURGER. Of course, this delayed gratification is also perpetuated by the smallness of Poe’s. I’d say it has about as much space as a studio apartment in Manhattan. Its walls are covered with posters and paintings of Mr. Poe himself, depicted in photos, watercolor, and oil, ranging in style from impressionist, to realist, to stained glass. The lighting feels orange. I don’t think it’s really orange. At least, I’ve never seen any orange light bulbs, and yet, the wooden floors and dented tabletops glow gold, just like the sun setting over the ocean but a block away.
Some items to note on the Poe’s Tavern menu:
1) I like the beer selection, for one. It’s BIG. They carry all your basic domestics, as well as an extensive list of imports and microbrews. You can find the perfect beverage to accompany any and all of the strange, delectable burger adornments at Poe’s Tavern.
2) The Poe’s tortilla chips with pico de gallo and guacamole is a must-eat, pre-burger snack. The chips are crisp, warm, and light on the salt. The pico will ruin your chances on a first date kiss but make your tummy happy, and the guac is only challenged in yumminess by my mom’s…which is saying something, because nobody cooks better than Mom.
3) The BURGERS. As I said, Poe’s Tavern is famous for its burgers. I can’t list just one. I can give you a few tips. All the burgers are named after different Edgar Allen Poe short stories, and all the burgers are also available in chicken form with the same toppings. What are some of the toppings, you might ask? Well, consider the Pit & Pendulum with its Applewood bacon and cheddar cheese. What about the Amontillado with the aforementioned guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapeno jack, and chipotle sour cream? And let us not forget the availability of a fried egg, sweet pepper goat cheese, Edgar’s drunken chili…there are SO many toppings. I suggest going the way of the “Starving Artist.” Starving Artist burgers are any of the Poe’s burgers, served without a bun. I always opt for this, because I can never eat a fully stacked Poe’s burger without making a mess and missing out on the toppings, considering once I’m halfway through, they’ve all ended up lonely, on my plate…
4) Fish tacos. Once I got over the Poe’s Tavern burger craze, I noticed there were other options on the menu, including fish tacos. Living in the Lowcountry, I eat seafood all the time. The sound of a “fish taco” always kept me away. Until I tried them at Poe’s. These suckers come with a couple different fish options: citrus mahi-mahi, spiced yellowfish tuna, or buffalo shrimp. This is the way to go if you want to go “light,” but you’ll be happy you did. They’re possibly even better than the freakin’ burgers.
Poe’s Tavern also hosts one of my most looked forward to events of the year, and that would be their Halloween pumpkin carving contest. Now, I suck at carving pumpkins. However, two of my best friends—Mary and Becky (who grew up on Sullivan’s Island—are amazing at it. So every year, I go for the Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale and for the entertainment of watching these girls work. Poe’s is a perfect Halloween place (did I mention the mysterious orange lighting?), so by the end of the contest, when all the ghoulish, glowing pumpkins are lining the restaurant front steps, it’s an event even Poe would enjoy. If you have the means, as well as geographic vicinity, do not miss this event in October.
Poe’s Tavern is an island oasis, free of annoying Jimmy Buffet music and tropical shirts, but rife with people who just want a good burger and a good time. It is a touch expensive (what do you expect? Your burger might come with a fried EGG, for crying out loud!), but it is well worth the trip and the cash. Come hungry; leave in a fat food coma, with the immortal words of Edgar Allen Poe swirling like opium smoke in your head. Quoth the raven…EAT AT POE’S…