Executive chef Brian Waters grew up in Beaufort and honed his cooking skills in a variety of restaurant kitchens.
Photo by Milton Morris
Little things combine well to create a picturesque setting for Saltus River Grill in Beaufort.
Situated in the quaint downtown, the restaurant overlooks Waterfront Park, with views of the river and the Lady’s Island bridge. Its tree-shaded patio and low-lit interior offer options for dinnertime ambience.
The food here, too, is all about little things done well. Executive chef Brian Waters aims to make the most of every single ingredient.
“You have to make sure that everything works well on the plate, that it makes sense and eats well and looks beautiful,” the 33-year-old Waters says.
Take Saltus’ shrimp and grits, a fan favorite over the restaurant’s 13-year history. The stone-ground grits are simmered in a broth flavored with rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wheels. Fresh Lowcountry shrimp and local mushrooms are sautéed and seasoned with a house-made stock. The dish is garnished with bacon that Waters and staff cure and smoke in house over seven days.
“Everything that goes into it is very complex,” he says. “It’s a bunch of nuances that all come together in the last minute.”
Waters’ dedication to detail in his dishes developed from on-the-job training in restaurant kitchens, working his way up the line, discovering the “beauty and art” of each station, he says.
With no formal culinary training, he absorbed all he could from other chefs, learning new techniques from Internet videos and recipes, and reading cookbooks and culinary textbooks front to back, like novels.
“I was always in a position where I could kind of teach myself how to cook,” Waters says.
At Saltus for the past five years, Waters has focused on restaurant mainstays like seasonal fresh fish, locally farmed pork and chicken, and prime cuts of beef. He exercises his creativity with whatever vegetables are in season.
“We really try to emphasize the bounty from the sea and the land here,” he says.
The dinner-only restaurant opens late afternoon with a sushi and raw bar.
“You could easily come here and not spend a boatload on a really good meal,” Waters says.
Frogmore stew chowder
2 Vidalia onions, diced
5 stalks celery, diced (reserve tender yellow leaves)
5 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
Salt and pepper
Old Bay seasoning
1 pound 21–25 count, shell-on, wild-caught shrimp, peeled and deveined, shells reserved
20 littleneck clams
2 quarts heavy cream
¾ pound smoked kielbasa, diced
½ pound red potatoes, diced, boiled until tender
2 ears sweet corn, grilled and cut from cob
Mix onion, celery and garlic in a bowl. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and half the vegetable mixture. Season with salt, pepper and Old Bay. Cook about 5 minutes, until vegetables are translucent and soft. Add shrimp shells, clams and heavy cream; bring to a simmer. Cook until all clams have opened and cream will coat back of a spoon. Strain liquid into another pot and keep warm. Adjust seasonings to taste. Reserve clam meat, and discard all shells.
In another pot over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and kielbasa. Lightly brown the meat, and add remaining vegetables. Cook about 5 minutes. Season shrimp with salt, pepper and Old Bay. Add to pot; cook about 2 minutes. Add reserved cream, potatoes and corn, and bring to a simmer. Add clam meat. Serve in soup bowls; top with celery leaves and Old Bay.
Saltus River Grill
802 Bay St., Beaufort | (843) 379-3474 | saltusrivergrill.com
Hours: Open for dinner Sunday–Saturday, 4 p.m.–until.