Downtown Conway’s Crooked Oak Tavern cooks up some of the best farm-to-table fare
The centuries-old live oak trees along the streets of Conway are steadfast symbols of strength and history, with their long, sinewy branches threaded with Spanish moss that reach for the heavens.
Likewise, the Crooked Oak Tavern has made quite the solid name for itself in downtown Conway as a cornerstone of the brick-faced Black Water Market on 4th and Laurel. It seems that oak trees are rooted in tavern owners Chris and Jackie Snyder’s history as well, marking the spot where they found a home under the shade of its branches in 2016 and, months later, where Chris proposed and the couple would wed. In 2018, they opened the doors to their restaurant, Crooked Oak Tavern, and she’s also a symbol of beauty—from the front to the back of the house.
My husband and I were the first customers to walk in for a Friday lunch date (but it didn’t take long for the place to fill up), greeted and seated immediately by a smiling server.
The dining area is cozy, worn and rustic, highlighted by exposed brick and wood plank walls. We sat at a four-top table alongside the front wall of arched windows fringed by quaint burgundy cafe curtains, a glass of Sam Adams and cabernet quickly joining us at the table. (It may have been noon, but we were treating this like a Friday night dinner date.) While their wine and craft beer lists are serious, we were here to partake in the food.
Crooked Oak prides itself on specializing in hormone-free, organic, farm-to-table menu offerings that include locally farmed meat, fish and produce. And when our plates arrived, this commitment made all the difference.
We started with the Pimento Crab Dip, a warm, creamy spread that combines two of the top culinary highlights from the Lowcountry: pimento cheese and crab meat. Spooned onto toasted pita triangles, the dip was to die for, bite after bite. Before the dip arrived, our server brought over a complimentary order of the Old and Dirty Myrtle Fries, just because. The heaping pile of fresh-cut fries were tossed in Old Bay and their zesty Dirty Myrtle sauce with Ranch dressing on the side. These fresh fries were so good and left very little room in our appetites before our main courses arrived!
But, oh, when they did, it was love at first sight (and bite), so we couldn’t help ourselves (although, we did leave with to-go boxes). I went with the flat iron steak locally sourced from WK Price Farms out of Fork, S.C., and drizzled with a smoky blackberry glaze that added a sweet, tart finish. Also served with this perfectly prepared cut of steak were a fresh garden salad, fluffy pile of mashed potatoes and a healthy serving of crisp, flavorful haricot verts.
Hubby decided to test a tried-and-true Southern comfort: Shrimp and Grits. Crooked Oak’s version, he said, was one of his favorites. A hearty plateful of creamy Parmesan cheese grits was layered with fresh Carolina shrimp, sausage, caramelized onions, green onions and diced tomatoes in a crushed red pepper butter sauce that was delectable.
The Snyders describe their recipes as those that travel up and down the East Coast, from New England to Pennsylvania Dutch to Maryland seafood to Southern cooking. Amen! I’d like to sample more of these in future visits, including their Carolina Crunchy Dijon Flounder, the Grilled Portobello with Avocado Chimichuri, and the Pulled Chicken BBQ Sandwich.
This is one of my top visits in restaurant assignments, from the customer service to the inviting atmosphere to the incredible menu creations that were the idyllic balance between fine dining and home-cooked meal. In early December, my husband and I had the privilege of participating in a walking food tour of downtown Los Angeles through a work trip. If downtown Conway starts up a food tour, Crooked Oak Tavern should definitely be a stop.
Crooked Oak Tavern
328 Laurel St., Conway
Hours: Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.