On Tybee Island, just about anything goes. You can wear just about anything, say just about anything, do just about anything (within legal parameters, of course) and fit right in with the wonderfully eclectic mix of people that frequent this beach.
A small barrier island located only 18 miles from Savannah, Tybee Island is a hub for native Savannahians and tourists alike. On Tybee Island you can buy an airbrushed t-shirt of the sunset, or sing karaoke at Benny’s Tybee Tavern, tour the historic Fort Pulaski, drink frozen drinks made with grain alcohol like old times. Or all of the above. The possibilities are nearly endless. You can also do all of these things while wearing a tank top, making this beach truly one of a kind.
Despite the religiously casual nature of Tybee, a foodie can still feel right at home thanks to the gourmet grandeur of local restaurant Fish Camp. Owner Kurtis Schumm set out to cultivate an inimitable dining experience in a destination that is unique itself. As the owner of Tybee Island Social Club, a successful, bustling restaurant located near the beach, Schumm knew he wanted to create another restaurant equally as appetizing as his first brainchild, but remarkably different in look, feel and taste.
“We followed business 101, and looked at what was needed on the island,” Kurtis remarked. What he found was that an easygoing island and eating well were not mutually exclusive. In fact, starting a restaurant with a surprisingly sophisticated menu and interior décor could serve as a destination unto itself. With this in mind, Kurtis and his wife Sarah began searching for the restaurant’s location. When they happened upon an old cottage as salty as the breeze coming off the ocean, they knew they were home.
“[Fish Camp] is in a 1950’s cottage, and we fell in love with how quaint it was,” Kurtis noted.
As opposed to Tybee Island Social Club, which is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and seats a parade of people, Fish Camp is “much more controllable,” according to Schumm. “We could swallow doing another [restaurant] because of its small size.”
With seating for 30 inside and a little more than that outside, Fish Camp’s comfy eatery is open from Wednesday to Sunday, and only for dinner, keeping its operation much more flexible, allowing Schumm to foster a beautiful intimacy and individuality within the restaurant.
The Element of Interior Surprise
In conjunction with the name Fish Camp, Kurtis and Sarah worked together on the design of the restaurant to create a cozy, cherished feel for guests – a place that felt like a real respite from the outside. Sarah is an interior designer by trade and Kurtis has a background in construction, so with these professional backgrounds they combined their forces to build a restaurant that is as beautiful as it is delicious
“We wanted it to look like a real fish camp, with mismatched napkins and silverware, and different furniture – a man’s escape. The things the wife doesn’t want in the house,” Kurtis laughed.
In typical Lowcountry fish camp fashion, the restaurant’s interior is eclectic and layered, like the possessions inside were collected over a lifetime of memories, which enlists both a sense of quirkiness and disarray. But don’t be fooled – the details of this restaurant are anything but out of place. From the aged wood-paneling on the walls to the charming fold-out dining tables to the mint-colored handles on the Laguiole knives set at each quaint place setting, the devil is clearly in the details at Fish Camp. Capitalizing on his construction expertise, Kurtis did the renovations to the restaurant in addition to painting all of the strikingly beautiful portraits gracing the walls of the cottage, further proving there is no shortage of talent at this cozy little hut.
A Menu that Changes with the Tides
And because you don’t just go to a restaurant for its décor, the food at Fish Camp is equally as persuasive as the interior design, delighting the senses with a refined and fresh selection of seafood and locally sourced ingredients that are sure to please. The creation of the menu is a collaborative process, and sometimes includes a glass of wine or two. Kurtis and Fish Camp’s sous chef Taylor Robertson meet at the restaurant around noon on days when the restaurant is open, and then start planning the menu, which changes as much as the weather on a sweltering Lowcountry summer afternoon.
“We have a revolving door of ingredients, which requires us to stay on our toes and keeps us really sharp,” Schumm said.
Together Kurtis and Taylor investigate the specialty foods they can procure from their local purveyors. Based on that day’s selection, the pair loosely crafts a plan of what food they will serve that evening. Then they start cooking. And tasting. And then cooking and tasting some more. And they do this until each dish is just right.
“I make everyone taste everything,” Schum said, who makes sure to surround himself with employees whose palates he trusts. This way the group can discuss ways to tweak and polish each dish.
“We’ve got a good team,” Kurtis added. “And [the restaurant] is so small, there’s no room for bad attitudes!”
Despite the ever-changing menu and larder, there is one dish that will always remain on the menu: the Lobster, Mushroom & Shrimp Risotto. A wonderfully creamy and savory dish, this risotto is assembled with fresh Maine lobster, poached to perfection, wild mushrooms, and local Georgia shrimp, when in season. The combination of the barley and corn add just enough bite of grain to complement the luscious lobster and silky mushrooms, which are topped elegantly with a long, single chive. The buttery smooth sumptuousness of this risotto is an experience that is not easy to forget.
“I can’t take full credit, it was Taylor’s idea,” noted Kurtis. “Its texture makes it fun and interesting.”
And speaking of interesting, the varied channels through which Fish Camp procures its fresh ingredients is a curious endeavor as well. Kurtis’ brother runs the Agnes Marie, the only wooden shrimp boat on Tybee, and any time Fish Camp serves fresh Georgia shrimp, it’s from the old world nostalgia of the Agnes Marie.
“We also serve other stuff that gets caught in their nets, like stone crabs and octopus,” added Kurtis, demonstrating that despite the spontaneity of the food, the deliciousness and freshness of each ingredient is certain.
Schumm also calls upon the maritime prowess of a local offshore fisherman who knows where and how to catch – wait for it – a hog fish. These giant, hog-like fish offer great-tasting, fatty meat, not unlike the valuable fatty bacon from hogs. This anonymous fisherman also knows all the great spots to snag a warm water lobster, which in Schumm’s opinion are nothing short of spectacular.
On the horizon of Schumm’s world of fish camps and tourists, his next venture is a Vietnamese restaurant that delivers. Yes, that’s right – now not only can you eat well in your tank top at Tybee, you can eat Vietnamese delivered to your door in your tank top at Tybee. Alas, the options are truly endless, as is Schumm’s commitment to his craft and business.
“We really pour ourselves into what we do… When we interview people, we let them know this is a family, and this is how hard we work,” Schumm noted. “We are very, very passionate about what we do.”
Written by Anna Jones