Dining Review - Despite a few oddities, Robinson's serves good food
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 8:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 8:42 a.m.
A while back, Robinson's Old Thyme Restaurant closed down in Holden Beach, eventually moving into a considerably smaller strip-mall location in Shallotte. A real family business for sure, Jamie Robinson takes your order, brings your food, busses your table and runs the register, all with a sweet smile.
Cuisine: Seafood and country cooking
Location: 4501-1 Main St., Shallotte
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.2 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $5-$9 for most baskets or platters
I spent time in the "back of the house" in this space long before the Robinson family made it into a full-service restaurant, so I have some idea what kind of challenge they had putting in any kind of kitchen. No idea how they fit everything they needed in the tiny space, but I think the very limited equipment probably explains why they don't do breakfast anymore and might explain a couple of other oddities I observed.
For instance, these folks clearly know how to fry up some fresh seafood, and have been doing so for some time. But the hushpuppies have been different, and not great, every time I've visited, which makes me wonder where they're coming from.
The battered onion rings and cornmeal-fried okra seemed fresh, and I thought they were pretty good, but some of the appetizers were obviously made somewhere far away before they went in the fryer. I had both the poblano and jalapeño poppers, and neither inspired a second try.
There are some other menu peculiarities. When I tried the crab cake, there were plenty of bread crumbs but little if any crab to speak of, and quite a few recognizable baby shrimp. The other peculiarity was that my fried catfish nuggets still had the skin on under the breading. Maybe I should take it as a sign that the catfish was really fresh, but I don't think "skin-on" really works unless the fish is grilled or broiled, not fried, where removing the skin is a chore.
Having said that, the seafood seemed very fresh and most selections were offered in sandwich or platter versions. The fried flounder and shrimp were unadorned and good. There was also a Hong Kong Shrimp special that was grilled and lightly seasoned with soy sauce, which was a nice break from the usual battered and fried.
Their chopped pork barbecue is tender and lean, with a slightly smoky sauce. When you start talking about barbecue around these parts it's likely to lead to an argument, but I think the Robinsons have found a happy medium that most folks would enjoy. The other non-seafood items – hamburger steak, county-fried steak, etc. – are about what you'd expect: hearty, old-timey comfort food.
Which brings me to the part of the experience that made my eye twitch: The décor.
The original tenant in the space was a fairly hip, modern coffee house. Professionally designed, it featured rich, saturated colors, bamboo flooring, track lighting and a swoopy, free-form front counter. All of the original bones are still there, which could have been a great start for the new place.
Giving the Robinson family the benefit of the doubt, they probably spent most of their efforts in the new location in the kitchen. Some amateur effort was made to decorate the 31-seat dining room with an odd marriage of Hard-Rock-Café- and Calabash-seafood-house-style decorations, without the authenticity of either. There are ceiling tracks with no track lighting, mismatched tables and chairs (some folding) and a big yellow folding "caution" sign in the middle of the floor over a floor drain.
It reminds me of entering someone's home and noticing that the pictures are all hung at the wrong height. You might be able to enjoy your visit, but the oddness can make it difficult to focus on anything else.
I hope this little family business will make it. Some folks will probably be able to enjoy the good food without noticing the decorations at all, while some might have a nice chuckle over the Air Supply albums stuck to the wall.
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