Being the face of food at the newest, most anticipated riverfront hotel is a hefty amount of pressure. Luckily for us, Steam rose to the challenge.
It’s not uncommon in a beachy tourist destination for restaurants to quickly and carelessly throw open their doors, sloppily put together a menu, and superficially crown themselves “best in town.” My first visit to Steam happened to be within 48 hours of their soft opening—and from the very first fabulously fried Carolina oyster I enjoyed on New Year’s Eve to the luscious crab cake I devoured last week, the flavors and care put into each dish have remained (and reigned) supreme.
There were a few hiccups during my first dining experience (a too-sweet cocktail, a few confused checks), which I bring up for several reasons: Other than the fact it was NYE and they were brand-spanking new, our party included over a dozen people. Point: Steam handled our loud, rowdy party like pros, so paired with divine food, I knew I’d be back for more.
Photos by Tom Dorgan
Diners should not miss the drink menus. Behind the bar stands a true mixologist who can craft to order. Plus, the drafts are diamonds—Oskar Blues Ted Fidy Imperial Stout and occasional rotating local brews.
Steam’s interior is spacious and classy, without feeling stuffy or pretentious. The best seats in the house are on the enclosed patio, perfect to share a quiet lunch or hang by the bar and catch a sick summer view of the river without sweating through your clothes.
Price-wise, the tabs add up to be pretty much what is expected for a hotel restaurant. That being said, while younger, millennial-ish locals might not be regular guests, for special occasions or dropping in at cocktail hour, Steam is steaming up the Port City.
My date and I dropped in for a midday meal on the patio and I’m pleased to say, from start to finish (customer service to full meal), everything was exceptional. Our young male server was attentive, knowledgeable and genuinely kind. With the dining room mostly bare, he could have slacked but instead chose to be professional and courteous, while answering all of my specific menu questions with grace and detail. Major nods for hiring a team whose thoughtfulness matches the quality of the overall restaurant itself.
The “Cape ‘Cobb’ Salad” caught my date’s eye (they had him at bacon). Our server described the buttermilk vinaigrette as zesty with hints of cayenne. He offered it on the side if preferred—always a plus when we don’t have to be the one to make all the suggestions. The only part of the salad’s description a touch misleading was the Carolina prawns. The shrimp were chilled and simply seasoned, but (at least in my opinion) prawns signify an oversized crustacean and Steam’s appeared to be fairly average-sized large shrimp. Overall, the salad was a rock-star light lunch. The mixed greens came generously dressed in slightly creamy vinaigrette (go for it tossed), and the crunchy bacon, fluffy chopped egg, and sweet crab made for glorious forkfuls of happiness.
With crab cakes being my go-to comfort food, the menu item was a no-brainer. The generously sized patty came on a bed of lardon-laced creamed corn with a refreshing fennel-jicama citrus salad. My only grievance was the execution of the plating. As far as looks go, the lightly browned crab cake floating in the luxurious sea of golden creamed corn was beautifully balanced by the brightness of the salad’s vibrant citrus segments in the salad. Though it was gorgeously presented, having the moist, velvety creamed corn against the rich, creamy crab cake resulted in the two melding together more than I would have preferred. The bottom of the patty lost its crispness. Completely taking that out of the equation, (had, for example, the creamed corn been on the side) every element was practically flawless with flavor. The corn was hearty yet fresh, the citrus salad added a bright crunch, and the inside of the crab cake was swimming with barely any filler—yet lots of necessary aromatics like fresh parsley and chopped chives.
A comfort-food homerun came with the “No Temp Burger Burger.” Although they only say it twice, it will feel more like three layers of delicious beef on this colossal handheld, which is basically Steam’s spin on the classic Big Mac. Had I not been so busy licking the special sauce out from in between each finger, I would have given it a massive round of applause. The everything brioche bun was dotted with toasty onion crisps and poppyseeds and offered an ideal burger-to-bun ratio. It was fluffy without being overly thick or bready, and the house bread-and-butter pickles were tart and sweet, alongside thinly sliced white onion, gooey American cheese and a tangy spread. Each bite was as addictive as the next. The patties were juicy, but don’t expect a pink medium-rare—hence the name. The meat is meant to be griddled thin and well done.
Speaking from experience, the from-scratch chips are hard to beat, but the Caesar (also entirely house-made) was cold, garlicky, creamy, and everything wanted and needed in a traditional salad.