Restaurant Review: Collectors Cafe Delivers An Artful Meal

January 22, 2010

2 paintings.jpgCollectors Café sits in a strip mall two blocks from the Atlantic on North Kings Highway, nestled between a Subway and Rite Aid. The white exterior, script sign and painting around the door hint at an establishment that offers more than the TGI Friday’s two blocks away.  But to the uninitiated Collectors Café doesn’t outwardly appear much different than thousands of other restaurants along the Grand Strand.

Looks can be deceiving.

When the doors swing open, connoisseurs of fine food and art are welcomed to the most unique eatery in Myrtle Beach and perhaps the state. Collectors Café is a working art gallery, showcasing 100 works of art by upwards of 25 artists at any given time. The art that adorns the wall is for sale, and, just as importantly, it sets the mood for a restaurant that is as good as it is eclectic.

In Collectors (official site), the entirety of the building is a canvas. The walls are painted, the columns on the bar are murals inspired by the masters, an idea owner Tommy Davis picked up while visiting old French bistros. The tile on the wine bar, a trendy weekend hotspot for locals, depicts the winemaking process in the fields of a European vineyard.

Collectors opened in 1994, growing out of Davis’ art gallery which was tucked into the back of the building. Along with fellow artist Mike Smith, Davis launched Collectors after spending seven months breathing life into what used to be a doctor’s office.

No matter how unique the concept, a restaurant is ultimately judged by the quality of its food and Collectors excels in that regard. When Davis and Smith were devising the layout for their art gallery/restaurant, they also made their greatest hire – executive chef Carlos McGrigor.

The self-taught McGrigor has been a cooking for 37 years, and he is solely responsible for one of the Grand Strand’s premier menus. If the walls of Collectors are a canvas for Davis, the kitchen is McGrigor’s studio.

The Collectors menu varies by season but it has a core of anchor entrees that are as tasty as they are diverse. Collectors’ signature dish is a McGrigor creation – scallop cakes. In 1981 McGrigor was experimenting in the kitchen when the scallop cake, which as the name suggests, is part crab cake, part soufflé, was born.

tommy carlos.jpg“In this business it’s hard to come up with something that is different,” McGrigor says with understandable pride. “Anybody that comes here has to have the scallop cake. People have been asking me for the recipe for many years but it’s locked up.”

The scallop cake is available as an appetizer or an entrée, and McGrigor isn’t being a braggart. The scallop cake, while rich, is a must-eat.

A couple other dishes on the menu that standout from experience.  The hot Cajun spiced shrimp tossed with penne pasta in a broth of tomatoes, white wine, lime,  jalapenos and cilantro is a house favorite, particularly if you like a little spice. 

The sonoran spiced yellowfin tuna, which is caught locally, is McGrigor at his best. The Cuban born chef complements the tuna with black bean sauce, mango salsa, safron rice and chipotle pepper crema.

The menu is accompanied by a wine list that has earned the Wine Spectator Award for five years running.

While a great entree is enough to satisfy most golfers, it’s worth mentioning that Collectors doubles as a coffee shop during the daylight hours and has a pastry chef who prepares dessert fresh daily.

The Verdict: Collectors is a one-of-a-kind restaurant and the art gallery adds to the dining experience as opposed to competing with. The bar area, which features live entertainment on weekends, is a popular hangout and worth a visit, but, ultimately, the food is what makes Collectors memorable.

The unique taste of the scallop cake can’t be overstated. It’s great. The rest of the menu is equally appealing. Fresh seafood, steak, it’s all there. Collectors bill itself as a Mediterranean restaurant but the menu has southwestern and Asian influences as well.

Collectors isn’t cheap – many entrees run between $30 and $35 – but if your group wants a meal that provides a fine-dining experience, Collectors will send you home happy.

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