October 2015

Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks : Mariculture meets culinary destiny

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by Anne

The die may have been cast when Andrew Carmines entered his fourth grade science fair with a project that studied the connections between oysters and bacteria. The Hilton Head Island native son was born into the seafood business, and with salt water running through his veins, has been enamored with the ocean his entire life.

As general manager of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks on Hilton Head Island’s far northwest shore, Carmines is in the captain’s chair at the iconic culinary epicenter of fresh Lowcountry seafood. Owned by his parents since 1974, Hudson’s’ unparalleled view over Port Royal Sound has not varied much since the 1920s, when J.B. Hudson, Sr. opened Hudson’s Oyster Factory, where mountains of oysters were shucked, packaged in steel-belted barrels, and shipped up the East Coast during the height of Prohibition. All those shucked oyster shells have literally created the foundation on which the restaurant stands today, and on which Carmines is taking the business into the future where mariculture meets environmental responsibility, right alongside delicious seafood.

Pointing at the peninsula of oyster shells beneath his feet, which over time replaced the business’s original foundation of palm pilings, Carmines said, “We’re coming full circle as we’re trying to redevelop the oyster business in a more modern sense. We have very little hard substrate here in our waterways for a wild oyster to attach to start its life. Our plan is to take a lot of the green [discarded] shells out of here from the years and years of eating oysters at Hudson’s, and we will redistribute them into the environment to create a habitat for wild oysters to attach to when they reproduce.”

This is all happening through a collaboration as complex as the weave of a shrimper’s net. Carmines, a committed steward of the area’s water and wildlife, has learned to navigate the licensing and permitting processes put in place by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers. Through his venture, the Shell Ring Oyster Company, Carmines is working hard to develop wild oyster habitats that will eventually produce more of these environmentally beneficial bivalves than Hudson’s could ever use.

Like produce at the farmers market, the seasons dictate when seafood is at its prime—ready to be harvested, caught, and put on a plate. Hudson’s and Carmines have a long and intimate history of knowing what makes seafood great and knowing how to set the stage for a special dining experience.

“Our ecosystem here in South Carolina is extremely delicate, because we have very little fresh water intrusion that can flush out pollution. We need to make sure all of our filtering organisms are in healthy populations. Oysters are pretty vital to our ecosystem, filtering between 20 and 30 gallons of water a day per oyster.”

Working closely with local commercial fishermen, Carmines is also bringing an impressively wide variety of the freshest seafood South Carolina waters can produce to diners at Hudson’s. “We’ve worked with the SCDNR and the federal arm of fish protection, to get licenses we haven’t had in the past that allow us to serve federally protected species like black sea bass, vermillion snapper, certain grouper species, and certain snapper species,” he said. “These fishermen are unable to sell their fish locally unless someone has the purchaser’s license, which we now have. That’s huge. We’re trying to be environmentally responsible and, at the same time, be able to offer great quality product to our customers, which takes a lot more time and energy.”

Like produce at the farmers market, the seasons dictate when seafood is at its prime—ready to be harvested, caught, and put on a plate. Hudson’s and Carmines have a long and intimate history of knowing what makes seafood great and knowing how to set the stage for a special dining experience. As the season turns to fall, and lovely temperate days are settling in for a bit, Carmines says that Hudson’s one-of-a-kind dining deck is prime real estate.

“We’ve really made an effort to create a unique outdoor dining experience. There aren’t any places that I know of on the island where you can sit out over the water and enjoy lunch, dinner, brunch. The brunch is really nice, and the bar is great,” he said.

Sunday brunch at Hudson’s has garnered a regular following, and for newcomers is a delightful discovery. Carmines was inspired to develop an inventive menu to perfectly pair with one of his favorite family traditions. Every Saturday, Carmines, his wife Erin (marketing director) and his two daughters (with another guppy on the way), go out to breakfast to connect before the busy day begins. “That’s a real special time of day for us. I wanted to create that for other people, but do it where they can be out on the water on a Sunday,” Carmines said.

A star of the Sunday brunch menu is the fried oyster benedict with fire-roasted poblano peppers, Canadian bacon, and hollandaise, served with breakfast potatoes or South Carolina stone ground grits. The oysters are served Bienville- and Rockefeller-style, steamed, chargrilled, and raw, and the alligator sausage is an exceptional accompaniment to the variety of eggs, the many benedicts, the seafood selections, pancakes, and the cathead biscuits.

Many of the items on all their menus come from eight-year Hudson’s veteran Isaac, who has been a part of the restaurant’s kitchen family since he was 16. “He’s risen to the top and does some amazing things with food,” Carmines said.

Miss Bessie, has been with Hudson’s since 1972 (their longest-running team member), and makes a lot of the homemade soups, along with all of their desserts. Everything at Hudson’s is made in-house with the freshest ingredients, and sourced as close to their docks as is possible.

Hudson’s’ Happy Hour menu, offered daily from 3 to 6 p.m., is an excellent way to enjoy being out over the water, quenching your thirst with a longneck or lemonade, and enjoying seafood-and-beyond sliders, oysters, steamed shrimp, BBQ shrimp, shrimp tacos and toast, mussels and clams, along with fried pickles and onion rings. Leaning back and settling in for the evening is effortlessly delicious.

Carmines is casting a wide net of environmental awareness and entrepreneurial action; from the sweet shrimp and plump oysters of fall, to the local fin fish of winter, to the favored soft shell crabs of spring, the seasons ebb and flow like the salt water tides that supply life to his harvest. Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks is fulfilling its culinary destiny. 

Hudson’s is located at 1 Hudson Road, Hilton Head Island; please call (843) 681-2772 or visit hudsonsonthedocks.com for more information and to learn about upcoming live entertainment and special events.

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