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I Discovered a Pearl: Atlantic Cod in South Carolina

Snowy white cod flakes star in the low country fish and chips offered at the Pearlz Oyster Bar in downtown Columbia—a recommendation by an old friend from my alma mater USC.  If you find yourself in the SouthCarolina capital, as I did over the holidays, and need a cod fix, swing by this oyster bar.  It’s a lucky find when searching for Atlantic cod in the Carolinas, where it’s not native (though I am).  Pearlz had a “low country” version of buttermilk and beer-battered fresh cod that was deep fried to a radiant golden brown.  It’s served with a peppery Cajun-seasoned tartar sauce and malt vinegar, along with ‘hand cut’, salty-sweet potato chips, and a touch of coleslaw.  Happily enjoyed the contrasting rich exterior and flaky interior of this marine fish, with much of the Louisiana-born Cajun flavoring kept at bay.  The South Carolina low country boasts plentiful seafood like clams, crabs, fish, shrimp, and oysters.  There’s no cod, or fish and chips, or anything else in the “low country” related to this dish.  But as we know, marketing has nothing to do with authenticity. I would definitely go back to Pearlz for the tasty, fried, farmed oysters, a real low-country specialty, though these weren’t native either. They are really good—hot, crispy, flavorful whole oysters, though my first choice is raw so you get the briny flavor too.  Delicious, almost naked, you can also douse them with lemon juice or cocktail sauce. The enjoyable sweet corn fritters with red peppers were really tempting, but then why get distracted when you can have the shellfish?  I wish I’d had two oyster orders and ditched the aforementioned potato chips—it was a good fried meal.  The next day it was on to Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café for shrimp and grits, a true low country classic.  They were recommended by low country expert and my former professor.  So good, they called for a return visit to that café, too.  The Columbia food scene is on the rise, but if you’re going to South Carolina and want really good seafood, go to Charleston.