Skippers Fish Camp, Darien GA

We spent Christmas down on Saint Simons Island with Marie’s mother and her father, took a side trip down to Jacksonville on the Sunday, and made our way back home on Monday. On the return trip, we stopped by two more of the thirty-one Georgia restaurants that have featured reviews on Roadfood.com. First up was Skippers Fish Camp, in the small town of Darien, about fifteen miles north of Brunswick. We took US 17 north to get here. It was a bright, shiny and downright gorgeous day to spend wondering what the heck this excellent, upscale restaurant was doing featured along with all the barbecue shacks and classic old diners on that website.

Acknowledging the quite minor controversy and hoping to move on, I made the novice mistake of starting a genre discussion, which everybody online found boring fifteen years ago. Whatever “roadfood” might be to somebody, that might mean something else to another. Make no mistake, the meal we had was really great, but it was as much “roadfood” to me as it was “Thai.” Not at all.

This is very much an upscale destination restaurant, with a menu equally generous to well-heeled travelers as it is corporate lunches from large businesses in the region. Certainly, there is a stuffed alligator on one wall and beat-up license plates and old fishing nets on the others, but, and this point was sadly lost on the non-Atlantans on that forum, the place reminded me most of our local Dantanna’s, which suggests itself as being a sports bar, but only for people who want a really good burger while wearing a suit and tie and sipping cocktails late at night. This is not by any means a reflection on quality – Skippers is exceptional, and that shouldn’t be overlooked – but just as the trio of Ray’s locations around Atlanta don’t really sum up the region’s character so much as provide a backdrop for business deals over a fine meal, Skippers is as much in the business of investment as in serving up good food. Framed annual reports are on the wall near the host station, explaining how the business came to be born as part of a public-private partnership that saw a massive amount of spending to create a condominium complex and bring Darien’s once-decrepit riverfront returning to life. That’s a great thing. Just not a roadfood thing.

Telling readers what this place isn’t doesn’t help provide a clear idea of what it is, though. It’s a very nice restaurant, somewhat quiet during the early part of the lunch hour, with a gorgeous view of the Darien River. Outside the large windows, guests can see shrimp boats moored on the docks outside. After eating, guests can go out onto the gangplanks and probably play with Skipper himself. This is an incredibly friendly cat who has adopted the property, possibly because shrimpers who’ve been bringing up their haul are probably willing to toss him the occasional scrap.

The shrimp is simply exceptional here. It should be; it was only hauled in the night before. I had the day’s special, which was all I could eat for twenty bucks, along with two sides. I had the grits, which were pretty good, and the fries, which I let the kids split. I had two dozen fried shrimp and one dozen blackened, minus the four that I surreptitiously slid over to Marie and to my son, and we all agreed that these were completely amazing. Even the very, very good seafood restaurants on Saint Simons Island are a distant second to the quality of this very fresh shrimp.

We also enjoyed sharing some Brunswick stew that I thought was quite excellent, and some gator tail. While our buddy Warren down in Jacksonville got to enjoy his gator tail the day before with the satisfaction of somebody whose team stepped up and actually beat Florida this season, my son and I just munched without considering the football ramifications. My son had never tried gator before, but agreed that it was quite wonderful. Sadly, the small portion that we brought home didn’t reheat very well, and unfortunately a few bites had to be tossed away.

It’s an exceptional restaurant, but it isn’t cheap. I mention this because I sort of pencil in a meal for four at around $35 when planning, and this would have been at least three times that if we had all dug in with our own entrees. The price tag will probably keep us from visiting again with both children in tow. Besides, there’s another place in Darien that comes with exceptional recommendations that I would like to try on some other visit to south Georgia. We’ll have to see about doing that one day this year; Marie and I will probably be back visiting at least three more times in 2011, and Glynn and McIntosh counties are each so packed with very good restaurants that we have many more stories to find and tell, not to mention all the good places on the way to and from the area.

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