Restaurant Review: Hello, Sailor

Crispy chicken sandwich and side salad. Photos by Michael Hall ‘19

Michael Hall ‘19

Food correspondent

With temperatures dropping and fake furs coming out of the closets, Hello, Sailor is fighting to maintain the popularity that placed it among Bon Appetit’s Top 50 New Restaurants of 2018. A menu featuring fried catfish, calabash shrimp, and a lobster roll builds on Joe Kindred’s childhood memories of what this building used to be: The Rusty Rudder, a shoes-off, fish-frying hangout for boaters. The décor reads like a retro Ikea collection—Boy Scouts at the beach—mixing pastels with pebbled plastic glasses and cafeteria food trays; but the near-empty dining room created an atmosphere closer to a hotel lobby. We moved outside to what felt like an entirely different restaurant: a windowed porch with wicker seats and heaters exaggerating a glam-camping, casual environment in a restaurant associated, for better or worse, with yacht-aspiring yuppies. 

We started with a round of drinks before moving on to a generous spread of dishes. After spending the first five minutes admiring the names of the cocktails rather than the contents—Backseat Bingo, Jungle Bird, Cave Diving, Airmail—I floundered under the waitress’s gaze and chose a rum drink. Her warning on the drink’s stiffness was an understatemen: the apparently innocent brew of molasses and tropical acids decided I was done with work for the evening. The Thursday special—a weekly, five-dollar cocktail—was more popular.

Cornbread oysters.

Though five seasonal platters offer one-course dinner options with southern undertones, Hello, Sailor’s main attractions are sandwiches, salads, and small plates. Before ordering a sandwich or platter each, my tablemates and I split orders of hushpuppies, sunchokes and caviar, cornbread oysters, and the crab louie salad. This being my third time trying Sailor’s hushpuppies, I already knew how divine they are. The contrast of the crisp exterior and delicate interior, bathed in a yuzukosho honey butter, was so intense it drew a whole-hearted sigh. The sunchokes and caviar tasted like a cross between earthy shitakes and starchy potatoes and rested atop a dill, onion schmaltz. Huitlacoche—a fungus that grows on corn—dusted on top added another layer of earthiness and subtle note of cheese that ultimately made this the table’s favorite. Note that the caviar, however, was lost under the deep layered flavors. The cornbread oysters were caked in a cornbread-bacon crumble that was cut by the spiciness of ‘nduja, a spreadable Italian salumi. The most expensive dish, the crab louie salad, was easily the most disappointing. Uncared-for citrus seemed designed to convince us that the “salad” wasn’t merely a vehicle for crab.

Bellies mostly full and whistles wet, we ordered sandwiches and platters, as well as a second round of cocktails: either alcoholic smoothies or fancy excuses to binge drink. The calabash shrimp and peppery catfish both bore the dark fry antecedent to audible crunches. The fried bologna sandwich with a poppy-seed bun was adorned with the deli accoutrements that engage the nostrils but would be a feat to consume by oneself. A crispy chicken sandwich outdid Chick-fil-a—its edges canvased with dill dressing—and outshined a side salad of neglected iceberg and cheddar, which seemed lifted from the Harris Teeter deli. If we weren’t feeling indulgent enough, an oatmeal cookie, cinnamon ice-cream sandwich, streaked with apple compote and dipped in white chocolate, left all content; our only complaint was that Christmas morning wasn’t tomorrow.

Michael Hall ‘19 is an Economics and Latin American Studies double major from Savannah, GA. He can be reached for comment at mihall@davidson.edu.

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