Rhinehart’s Gives Business Lunch a Casual Beach Vibe
For many Augustans, the advertising slogan “beyond casual” immediately conjures up the image of a local restaurant known for its “come as you are” attitude and atmosphere: Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar.
While I have been to Rhinehart’s a number of times for dinner, it has never been at the top of my lunchtime choices. However, after this experience, and on days I wear pants to work, Rhinehart’s will definitely be added to my list.
Pulling into the full, unpaved parking lot at the original Washington Road location is reminiscent of pulling up to a favorite locally loved fish restaurant at the beach; you know the food will be good, and it doesn’t matter if you are wearing sandy flip flops and a floppy hat. Known by locals as a great place for oysters and other seafood, the casual, beach vibe continues indoors at Rhinehart’s as well.
Walking into the restaurant at lunchtime was a bit unexpected as guests enter through a small vestibule into a large bar area. It might lead one to ask: Is it a restaurant with a bar or a bar with a restaurant? The walls and tables are covered with patron-provided graffiti, some more polite than others. With upbeat music playing and a friendly bartender inviting us to seat ourselves, my colleague and I headed toward a sunny dining room toward the front of the establishment.
The lunchtime patrons were a mixed bunch, with no one in a hurry to give up their oversized wooden picnic table. Tip: Don’t wear a skirt on a visit to Rhinehart’s, since it makes it difficult to gracefully climb onto the wooden benches.
My colleague and I sat on the enclosed porch, which was cozy and warm on the cold day we visited. Other diners seated around us were diverse: two large groups of co-workers wearing suits and matching name tags; several couples; a few single diners; a table of medical professionals dressed in scrubs; and even a family with young children. Everyone seemed relaxed and happy, which was appropriate for such a relaxed and happy restaurant.
A friendly server promptly took our drink order and pointed out the specials of the day. I’m a seafood lover, so I was tempted by several menu selections. After some debate, I ordered the Bayou Shrimp and Grits. My colleague prefers turf over surf, and while there were numerous meat-lover choices, such as the Beyond Burger and a grilled chicken sandwich, he ultimately ordered the fried tilapia plate at the recommendation of our waitress.
For those who haven’t had shrimp and grits before, this low-country staple varies in texture and flavor but always includes the basics of shrimp and sauce over a bed of grits. Rhinehart’s preparation was made with a brown roux (gravy) with sautéed onions and celery, grilled smoked sausage, tender grilled shrimp and fresh scallions over a generous bowl of cheesy grits, all topped with more cheese.
Some varieties of shrimp and grits are too heavily seasoned for me to enjoy, but this one had enough seasoning to be flavorful without being spicy. The cheese made it gooey, creamy and hard to put down. The portion was so generous that I was unable to finish my bowl, but I certainly gave it my best shot. It was delicious!
My colleague’s plate was filled to capacity with three large pieces of fried fish. He declared it crispy, flaky and light. The pieces of fish were so large that two were plenty, and he took his third piece home as leftovers. He chose cheese grits as his side, and it was the perfect complement to his fish.
Since he wasn’t interested in eating the coleslaw that came with his meal, I took a taste as a sample and ate every last morsel of it.
In our dining area, upbeat music played throughout our lunch. I wondered, though, what radio station or satellite channel alternated between hard rock and country music, as our background music did. There was a song selection for just about everyone.
My fish-and-grits dish was delicious and reasonably priced at just $7.67. With a drink and a tip, my cost was about $12. My colleague’s fried fish platter was justifiably a bit more at $13.99, so maybe not an “everyday” lunch splurge, but well worth it as a special lunch treat at nearly $20 with drink and tip.
Since opening in 1983, Rhinehart’s on Washington Road near Interstate 20 has become a favorite of locals for seafood and as a fun hangout. A second location of Rhinehart’s is on Belair Road in Evans and has the same “come as you are” atmosphere. Both have daily lunch specials and beer and adult beverage specials that begin at 11 a.m. for those who don’t have to go back to work after lunch.
While Rhinehart’s has always been a fun destination for casual, relaxed dinners with friends for me, I’ll definitely go back again at lunchtime, and just maybe plan to take the afternoon off so I can linger.
Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar
Noise Level- Four
Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar has two locations: 3051 Washington Road in Augusta and 305 N. Belair Road, Evans. Both locations are open starting at 11 a.m. seven days a week. Learn more at www.rhineharts.com.