When word on the foodie grapevine came out that Kurtis and Sarah Schumm, already proud owners of Tybee Island Social Club and Tybee Island Fish Camp, were hitting it outta the park with a triple-header, their brand spankin’ new bÒ biên hut down at the south end of Butler Avenue, of course, I had to see what was goin’ down. Word on their website to pay attention to: Pan-Asian, and they are rockin’ it with a small but very eclectic menu to tempt the heart of Asian food lovers with Chinese-inspired snacks, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean goodies.
A foodie buddy and I hit them up on Friday at high noon, broiling in the white-hot sun pouring down its brilliance over Tybee, and praying hard for a cooling breeze. The little white hut sits across the road from the Arby’s and features a small, roofed side porch with benches and a fun cart of Vietnamese straw hats and purses for sale out front: order at the window cuz’ the only seating is in the pergola in the side yard. Newly dug holes with baby bamboos surround the area and the pergola is yet to be draped with either grapes or wisteria, so if you’re a “sun bunny” who scoffs at shade, well, you’ll love it.
I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Kurtis for a moment outside as he showed us the menu and even though it’s fairly simple, it was difficult to know what to try first. Order at the window, give them your name and take a seat on the side bench to wait. Everything is cooked up fresh so be prepared to wait a little, 10-15 minutes—the hut may remind you of “fast food’”but the service leans toward a standard restaurant wait-time.
My buddy, a Southern boy at heart, of course got the Coconut Shrimp, along with the Vietnamese Bánh Mì, a baguette full of grilled steak, roasted red pepper, Asian slaw, mayo and cilantro served with a skewered potato—we opted instead for the Octopus & Jalapeño skewer out of curiosity. Their Facebook page features a close-up view of the fresh, grayly glistening, gelatinous octopus, which may or may not be to everyone’s taste, and the resulting thick-cut, herbed, pink chunks may cause a moment of trepidation. I’ll quickly own up that it’s not the most attractive dish, but the firm, yet tender texture and delightful flavor will win your tastebuds over once you work up the nerve for that first bite!
The Coconut Shrimp, 4 for $6 (a tad pricey for me, thanks), proved to be a hands-down favorite with us: delicately crispy, warm orange-gold, the flavor of the coconut is present but not overwhelming, and the taste of the fresh shrimp comes through nicely. My buddy’s Bánh Mì was pretty good, though I need to warn anyone wearing light-colored clothes, it’s a very messy dish. Eat over the paper or you’ll spend your afternoon rubbing lemon-slices on your shirt or shorts to get out the stains! Thin-sliced beef, not pork, is the featured meat here, so you may find it somewhat different than what you’re used to. A definite trademark of this place is fresh veggies, so you’ll find plenty of red cabbage, and halved Brussel sprouts as well, tucked in between meat and bread—if you’re not a veggie lover, let them know ahead of time.
I’ve really been in the mood for pork, and the dish I’ve been craving is Mapo Doufu, a famous Chinese treat made of big hunks of soft, silken doufu (Chinese for “tofu”) sitting in a pool of red, spicy hot oil made with the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and topped with a mound of ground, spicy pork. If this is what you’re envisioning when you see the menu here, you may be disappointed. Kurtis is a chef that has his own way of translating dishes and this one has been transformed pretty much beyond recognition into a vegetarian dish: small cubes of seasoned, seared tofu, black bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns, shiitake mushroom slices and shredded cabbage–I asked for pork to be added to mine and got some small, tasty cubes. The flavor was vaguely familiar, and yes, it has that distinctive, mouth-numbing heat, but the brown sauce, the little neat cubes of firm doufu, well, they just didn’t do it for me. If you want a flavorful dish full of al dente veggies (including the ubiquitous Brussel sprouts), though, go for it!
The Fried Duck Legs (3 for $6) are called “spicy” but if so, it is really a very mild spice, so don’t be afraid to try them. They were tender, tasty enough, with a nice crispiness when fresh from the box, yet I found something a little lacking…perhaps a touch of ginger or more garlic, a tad more sesame oil? The dumplings, the little half-mooned shaped ones called jiaozi, were not bad: steamed pork and shrimp, though, five little dumplings for $6 struck me as way over-priced. This is a common theme with dumplings in Asian restaurants, where you will pay such a price for four to six dumplings, when you can go to any Asian market and get an entire bag (40-50) for the same price. They are such a common, everyday street food, and quickly made, so I can never justify paying that much for them—but I wanted to try what they have here. The choice is up to you. I think the duck legs are a better buy.
For some reason, the packaging here stands out for me. The duck, shrimp and dumplings were served in brown, recycled paper boxes, with a tuck-n-fold top. I like that. The food stays fresh and the paper absorbs oil well. The Mapo Doufu comes in a white-clear plastic quart container and the accompanying rice in a smaller one—dip it your entrée out with a spoon and pour over the rice—this is take-out, after all. I do like that you’re given chopsticks in red paper, along with a soy sauce/duck sauce/hot mustard trio of packets as well. Their drink selections are standard Coke products but with the addition of Peace Teas.
A note on their other menu items: I use the term Chinese-inspired because the specials served are dishes like General Tso’s Chicken, Beef with Broccoli, Kung Pao Beef—much more Americanized Chinese take-out style, not really authentic. Everything here does hold to a standard of super fresh, I’ll give’em that, and the flavors are generally pleasing, though not really exciting yet, but we got to them on their 5th day open so I am willing to wait a bit and try out new dishes, albeit late in the evening! It can be a fun place to stop for those diners tired of chicken fingers, burgers and pizza, and it’s a good start for Asian food lovers to get their chopsticks burnin’ up on Vietnamese dishes or try something a little new. With the Cantonese joint long gone from the island, Tybee residents can breathe a sigh of relief and take home a nice selection of pan-Asian goodies, or sweat it out in their bathing suits and flip-flops. Either way, it’s an enjoyable summer treat in the heat.
bÒ biên hut
1605 Inlet Ave
Tybee Island, Georgia
Hours seem to vary at the moment, though generally 11am until 11pm, but call first to make sure—Closed on Wed.
Photo Credit: Chery Baisden Solis