Even as the cold winds whip through Downtown, there’s a warming Southern breeze emanating from the building at 1114 N. Water St. where Lowcountry began serving its popular seafood boils on Feb. 15.
In fact the flavorful seafood offerings – which include options like shrimp, snow crab, King crab, lobster or vegetables – are likely to conjure memories of sunny days, picnic tables and spending time with friends and family.
And that’s exactly the vibe you’ll find at Lowcountry, a uniquely designed space that uses picket fencing, whirligigs and pergola-like ceiling elements to create the illusion of an outdoor setting where pouring a bag of seafood out onto a table feels as natural as can be.
It’s not at all surprising that it was a backyard seafood boil at which Pan and Dana Hompluem hatched the idea for Lowcountry, a concept which embraces one of the great communal eating experiences of an American summer.
Pan says his love for seafood boils was inspired by both road trips along the Gulf Coast and childhood memories of spending time with family eating bags of crawfish at tables in the park.
But it was the notion of recreating those memories – and helping others do the same – that became the foundation for Lowcountry’s first location in Chicago on Clark Street near Wrigley Field, and (two years later) a second in the South Loop.
“We bootstrapped our first location,” says Pan. “We thought it was a great idea. But it was also unique. We had no idea if people would come.”
But people did come. They brought friends. And eventually, people traveled to seek them out, including folks from Milwaukee, including a couple that Pan says became repeat customers, returning again and again to celebrate their anniversary with a Lowcountry seafood boil.
Those customers, Pan says, were part of what inspired a Milwaukee location.
“We love Milwaukee,” he says. “We have family and friends here. So, when we found this location, things just came together. The overall vibe just felt right. It felt like a Lowcountry.”
Escape the winter
Lowcountry offers both dine-in and carry-out. Carry-out customers can order online or by phone, with pick-up at the restaurant’s Water Street entrance. Those looking to dine in should enter Lowcountry through the new main entrance, located just through the patio gate off of East Highland (and yes, there will be a big, beautiful patio out there this summer).
From there, you’ll have your choice of tables in various areas across the restaurant.
“Eating out should be an escape,” says Pan. “So we designed the restaurant in a way that allows people to relax and get away.”
That includes not only outdoor vibes, but also nods to New Orleans, including plenty of Mardi Gras paraphernalia.
It includes eclectic decor and seating options that can accommodate groups of a variety of sizes.
And it means a super casual vibe that includes enhanced counter service (you order and they bring your food out when it’s ready).
Speaking of ordering, once you’ve chosen where you’d like to sit, take note of the table number. You’ll need it when you head to the counter to place your order, plus pick up necessary gear including napkins and bibs. Both are advised, as eating a seafood boil means digging in with your hands, peeling shrimp, eating corn off the cob and cracking crab legs.
That's why you'll also find hand-washing stations right in the dining room, which serve a dual purpose for hand-washing during COVID-19.
As for what you order, that’s up to you.
Beginners might want to choose one of Lowcountry’s signature combos, which include your choice of protein (shrimp for $27; snow crab legs for $37; one pound each of shrimp and snow crab for $56). All are served with three pieces of corn and three potatoes, plus two pieces of cornbread and a soft drink. Or ask for the double trouble, which comes with a pound of shrimp, a pound of snow crab and double the sides ($63).
A weekday combo (available Monday through Thursday for $29.50) includes a half pound of shrimp and snow crab, plus the usual accompaniments.
There’s even a vegetable boil loaded with corn, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, green beans with a choice of cajun or everything sauce (heat level one) for $18.
But, you can also build your own seafood bag, choosing your protein, sauce, heat level (one to four) and add-ins (corn, sausage, potatoes, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower or hard-boiled eggs).
Speaking of sauces, you can order your seafood boil without them (or get them on the side for dipping). But remember, these are where the flavor is. Choose from five butter-based sauces including garlic butter, lemon pepper (good with crab, lobster), cajun (good with shrimp, crawfish), or “Everything,” which is all three aforementioned sauces combined.
You can also choose your heat level, which is built on heat derived from flavorful Thai chilies. Level one is accessible to anyone. Head to level two and you’ll pick up a bit of heat. Level three is where most people stop. And level four will likely result in sweating, crying or both.
If you aren’t satisfied with any of those, you can also ask for the “off menu” level five, which is made with a combination of Thai chilis, ghost and habanero peppers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Guests can also add beer, wine, bottled cocktails or mini bottles of liquor to pair with soft drinks for simple mixers (pricing $4-9). There are also sides, including fried shrimp, popcorn chicken, fried calamari, wings and cajun waffle fries ($6 to $10), plus cornbread, jasmine rice and garlic noodles ($3 to $6) and housemade beignets or deep fried oreos for dessert ($6).
Lowcountry offers both dine-in and carry-out, plus easy online ordering right from their website. Online orders are generally ready for pick-up within 20 to 30 minutes (they give you a call when your order is ready). Pick-up is located just inside the door on Water Street.
Lowcountry is open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.