There’s no better time to be outside in the Lowcountry than now, when temperatures begin to fall. And there’s no better place to celebrate the season than at one of Charleston’s rooftop eateries. Balao Seafood Legend opened its doors earlier this year, a welcome addition to Charleston’s skyline. Perched atop sister restaurant Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill, just steps from the port, Balao offers fresh local seafood and craft cocktails on a breezy rooftop patio.
Balao’s seafood-centric menu, which changes daily, reflects the Southern sensibilities of executive chef Nathan Davenport. The Mount Pleasant native’s culinary education began in his family’s kitchen and continued at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. He has worked in top local restaurants, such as Six Tables and Husk.
The eatery’s laid-back design, with its beachy, industrial vibe, is the perfect place for sipping, supping and sunset watching. The seating, both outdoor and indoor, is styled with rustic wood, fresh whites and nautical wall sculptures. A bare-bones bar opens to both dining rooms.
In 2017, Davenport joined Human Element Hospitality, the management team behind Burwell’s, as corporate chef. He and owner Kenneth Emery developed a concept they named Balao, after a type of baitfish. It expresses their mutual respect for authentic regional dishes and locally sourced product.
On my first visit to Balao, in late spring, I started with a frosty Summer Rosé—a not-too-sweet cocktail that combines sparkling rosé with a refreshing mixture of watermelon, Aperol, St-Germain and tequila. Next came a dish of cool, citrusy ceviche from the raw bar. Then, ahi tuna nachos, piled high with blackened fish— anything but a standard snack. Briny South Carolina oysters were roasted with ramp butter and herbed bread crumbs—not cheese—giving them a clean, crunchy profile.
Our server described the Louie sandwich as a play on “po’ boy meets lobster roll minus the lobster.” The hefty “hand-held” features housemade bread stuffed with shrimp and tangy rouille Louie sauce.
This season, Chef Davenport will feature his play on traditional New Orleans BBQ shrimp. “We make a dark chocolate-colored roux and add house-made shrimp stock,” he explains. “Then we add spices, trinity and golden Carolina BBQ sauce, letting it simmer for two hours.” Finally, he sautés South Carolina shrimp in a little bacon fat, adds the sauce and serves it over creamy Geechie Boy grits. Delicious!
With Lowcountry temps being what they are and so many creative seafood dishes on the menu, Balao Seafood Legend is the perfect rooftop retreat—any time of the year.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer.