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Boat to table at Hudson’s

Childhood friends reconnect to provide fresh shrimp for all.

Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks is a Hilton Head Island institution. The original oyster factory was built in 1912 as a seafood processing plant. Hudson’s has been a family-owned business since the 1920s, primarily as a seafood processing plant. Owned and named by the venerable J. B. Hudson, Sr., thousands of oysters were processed at this facility. These oysters were brought in by oar-powered boats known as bateaux, shucked at Hudson’s, then sent by barge to the Northeast. The discarded shells were dispersed on site, creating the very peninsula and foundation on which the restaurant currently stands.

Story + Photography by Jason B. James

PARTNERS IN PRAWN Boat captain Lamar “Skip” Toomer (center) and restaurant owner Andrew Carmines have a unique agreement for fresh shrimp.

Boat to Table

As a great blue heron sizes up a six-top table as a temporary perch on the deck bar at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, a handful of servers and bartenders methodically prepare for the day’s service. Two shrimp boats in for maintenance float a few feet from the bar. They bob with the wakes of passing leisure boats as Lamar “Skip” Toomer, the captain of the boat named the Catina Renae, is busy taking measurements to repair and upgrade the vessel before he and his crew head out to sea. The fourth-generation shrimper glances up to greet Hudson’s owner Andrew Carmines.

Toomer and Carmines grew up playing baseball together in grade school. As adults, they reconnected and their friendship has grown into a symbiotic business relationship.

About 20 years ago when Carmines was a kid and checking in shrimp from the 22 shrimp boats that docked at Hudson’s, then owned by his parents, many shrimpers would work the summer season. With fuel prices low and retail value on shrimp high, fishermen were plentiful and many did well working just the warm months. Over the past two decaades with imported shrimp flooding the market, prices went down and fuel costs rose. Most of these weekend warrior shrimpers left the game, leaving only a handful of full-time fishermen. Toomer and his brother, Jeff, who owns and operates another shrimp boat, are among this small group of shrimpers.

After Carmines, who is now running Hudson’s, and Toomer reconnected in 2016, the two constructed an agreement. Hudson’s would not charge the Toomers a docking fee, and in exchange, the final 24 to 36 hours of each expedition would be fished exclusively for the restaurant.

Real Shrimp and Real Estate

This was a mutually beneficial deal for both parties. Hudson’s sits on prime real estate for shrimp boats along the banks of Skull Creek, which opens up into both the Port Royal and Calibogue sounds. This allows the Toomers to shrimp locally or head offshore to other parts of the East Coast, sometimes for one to three weeks at a time.

“We do the best we can to give him (Andrew) the product he wants. He gives us a better price than the wholesale distributors and he’s getting a better price than he would from the wholesale distributors,” Toomer said. “And the customers miss the boats when we’re gone, too.”

The agreement allows Carmines access to some of the freshest and cleanest shrimp available in the area. There’s a knowledge that the shrimp are not being pumped up with silicone or sodium tripolyphosphate, a solution commonly used to make shrimp appear firmer, smoother and glossier.

“I know those guys. I know there’s nothing added to those shrimp. I know they’ve only been out of the water for 36 hours, so I can do with it what I please and know the quality is there,” Carmines said.

Crustaceans Closed

The local shrimp seasons – which run from April through June and September through January (white shrimp) and June through August (brown shrimp), are typically abundant and predictable. Over the past two years, with hurricanes Matthew and Irma and unprecedented freezing, the seasons have been unpredictable and shortened.

This year’s first white shrimp season closed in January after the freeze the area sustained. For most restaurants offering fresh, wild shrimp, this was a problem. These problems are not as concerning for Carmines.

“Skip and Jeff were shrimping in the Keys for pink shrimp and knew the shrimp were looking nice off the coast of Georgia. So, they docked in St. Mary’s for two weeks and fished the area. They each brought back 7,000 pounds of shrimp. Twice. They really got us through the summer,” Carmines said.

Having top-notch fishermen during unsettled times deliver prime products to a seafood restaurant is invaluable.

“Our customers have gotten to the point where if we don’t have local shrimp, they call us out on it every time,” Carmines said.

Many locals were up in arms over the closing of the season, but the Toomer brothers said they think it can be a good thing. Expiration of a large population can help expunge diseases that are rampant in the community. This year, many shrimp were contaminated with black gill, a single-cell infection that affects the respiratory system. After the freeze killed off much of the population this past winter, the infection seemed to disappear.

Picking & Storing

A fall white shrimp is firm, sweet and a staple for many Lowcountry outdoor party and tailgating events.

When buying fresh white shrimp at the market this autumn, look for shrimp that are just that: White. When a shrimp is cooked, it turns red. Any shrimp purchased at the store that are red have been stored at unsafe temperatures during some point of its handling and does not have much of a shelf life. “If it has a green tail, buy it,” Carmines said.

If you are storing fresh shrimp, Carmines and Toomer both agree that it is best to eat as soon as possible. When it comes to frozen storage, Carmines prefers the old milk carton method.

“Open up a paper milk carton, take a couple pounds of shrimp and put them in the carton one by one until you have the carton packed tight.” he said.“Fill the gaps with cold water and stick in the freezer. You also get more bang for your buck by being able to stack them once they freeze.”

Hudson’s Real Deal Barbecue Shrimp

Ingredients (Serves 4)
40 21/25 shrimp, cleaned with heads off, tail and shell on
4 cups Hudson’s Real Deal Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup whole butter
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh chopped chives
2 lemons
4 pieces french baguette, toasted

[1] Place 1 tablespoon whole butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter is melted and at a high heat, add the shrimp.
[2] Season the shrimp to taste with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add approximately 4-6 oz. Hudson’s Real Deal BBQ sauce to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and chives to taste then season with fresh lemon juice.
[3] Place the shrimp in a bowl and serve with a piece of toasted baguette.

Hudson’s Shrimp Po’ Boys

Ingredients (Serves 4)
36 cleaned and deveined shrimp
1 cup mayonnaise
1 head iceberg lettuce, thinly shredded
4 beefsteak tomatoes, thinly sliced
4 French baguettes, approximately 6 inches each
3 cups seafood breading, placed in a shallow baking dish
4 pickled cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 pound frozen French fries
2 mixing bowls
1 deep fat fryer

[1] Preheat the fryer to 350 degrees. Place the French fries in the 350 degree fryer and cook until golden brown, approximately 5-6 minutes.
[2] While the fries are cooking, slice the baguettes in half lengthwise. Spread the mayonnaise on both sides to taste. Place the shredded lettuce on the bottom side of the baguette, then top with the sliced tomatoes, then the sliced pickles. Set the baguettes aside.
[3] When the French fries are cooked, place the fries in a bowl with a paper towel and season to taste. Keep warm.
[4] Place the shrimp in the seafood breading and coat evenly on all sides. Carefully place the shrimp in the fryer so as not to touch each other until crisp. Continue to fry the shrimp until golden brown. Place the shrimp in a bowl with a paper towel. Season lightly to taste. (You may have to fry the shrimp in batches.)
[5] Place nine fried shrimp on top of baguette. Serve with French fries.