“In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina.” – James Taylor, Carolina in My Mind, 1968
If you love family and friends, food, fun, and football (or basketball and beyond), you’ll love going to The Carolina Tavern in Port Royal. If you don’t, stop reading now. Your loss.
With the NFL playoffs continuing, the Super Bowl on the horizon, and March Madness about to commence its craziness, there’s never been a better time to head to The Carolina Tavern for the first (or 40th) time. Plus, “Carolina” is on our minds in a big way, thanks to the release of Lynn’s Carolina’s Ring novel this month (yeap, shameless, but proud, plug).
Let’s start with family and friends. The bottom-line is that The Carolina Tavern is a VERY popular gathering spot for family, besties, and beyond. It shows as soon as you walk in the door, in that it often feels like a family reunion. And, if you’re not family and there’s not a table available, you might be invited to join another table that has available seats. It’s just that kind of place.
Then there’s the food. At the risk of regurgitating the menu (there’s something for everyone),
here’s a quick-ish summary.
The lengthy appetizers list includes: Tavern Crisps (house made chips served with beer cheese);
BBQ Chicken or Pork Nachos; Buffalo Chicken Dip (shredded beer-can chicken tossed in hot sauce, blue cheese, and cream cheese, and served with tortilla chips); their delectable riff on traditional nachos (three-bean and beer chili topped with melted shredded cheddar and Jack cheeses, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and jalapeños, and served with sour cream and salsa); and a lot more (really, it’s a long list).
The first appetizer listed also remains the top-selling app: Pretzel Dippers, which are fresh-baked pretzels rubbed in garlic butter and dusted with Parmesan cheese. They’re served with honey mustard & cheese sauce for dipping. The “Tavern Triple Play” offering is a great deal for 14 bucks, where you can choose three from a list of six apps (including Pretzel Dippers, thankfully). If we have six or more people at our table we order two Tavern Triple Plays and get all six choices.
There are also four types of aptly named French fries on the apps list, including Tavern Loaded Fries, Tavern Chili Cheese Fries, Tavern Garlic Parm Fries, and Tavern Ale Gravy Fries.
Next, there’s a choice of eight different eight-ounce tavern burgers, which are hand-pattied and served on a potato roll, with French fries or a side of your choice. Trust us when we report that these are very good burgers. One of our goals at The Carolina Tavern is to try all eight options. It’s a tough job, but we’ll do anything for our readers. We love that the menu explains the various “temperature” choices (“medium rare” for our burger, please).
There’s also a choice of seven sandwiches, which are also served on potato rolls. You can
substitute a flour wrap for a roll on any sandwich. Sandwiches, plus subs and Tavern Flats below, are also served with French fries or a side of your choice. Highlights for us from the sandwich board include the Big Pig Sandwich (think pulled pork, applewood smoked bacon, baked ham, smoked sausage, and cheddar cheese…yeap, all of it); the BBQ Smoked Sausage Sandwich; the Corned Beef Sandwich; and the Beer Battered Fish Sandwich.
Subs are served on sub rolls, but you can also substitute flour wraps for any sub roll. The Tavern Steak Sandwich is very popular, with shaved ribeye or shredded beer can chicken, topped with mushrooms onions green peppers, and Jack cheese. There’s also the Tavern Philly Sub, Buffalo Chicken Sub, and the Tavern Chicken Sub.
A menu category called Tavern Flats features flatbreads. Options include the Cheesy Garlic Flat, the Club Flat, the Buffalo Chicken Flat, the unique Scampi Flat, and several more.
They’re rightfully proud of their sides. Standard sides for just 99 cents include: sweet potato tots; French fries; mashed potatoes; coleslaw; tasty grilled veggies; and beer cheese served as a side. Premium sides for just $2.99 include: yummy onion rings; their Garlic Parm Fries; their Tavern Chili Cheese Fries, Tavern Chips; and loaded mashed potatoes. You can also substitute or add a salad for a small upcharge.
But wait, there’s more. Next comes a choice of seven entrées, served with a choice of one side. The possibilities include shrimp, corned beef, a 12-ounce rib eye, a barbecue plate, beer-battered fish and chips, and more. We’ve tried several of these and seen them all served, so we’re comfortable with recommending all of their entrées as well, if that’s more your style.
The Carolina Tavern’s very popular and seriously tender fall-off-the-bone ribs are slow-cooked for 16-plus hours and sauced to perfection. They’re served in half and full rack portions. Their rib sauces range from dry beer rubs to sweet honey options and BBQ blends with a full range of heat.
Their wonderful (and wonderfully large) wings are served bone-in or boneless and they’re fresh
and never frozen. All servings include celery and dressing. They come in batches of 6, 10, 15, 20, and 50. Their extensive wing sauces list includes more than a dozen options, with some of our favorites including Tavern Classic, Garlic Parmesan, Sweet Red Chili, Tavern Beer Rub, which is dry, and their Tavern Blend. Extra sauces are available in two and four ounce portions, as are additional servings of celery and ranch or blue cheese dressing.
The hand-breaded and sauced-to-order tenders are family faves. They are also fresh and never frozen.
We also love their four combo possibilities, including Ribs and Chicken Tenders, Ribs and Pork, Ribs and Wings, in both boneless and bone-in, and Ribs and Shrimp. In our experience, you’ll very likely have leftovers if you order a combo.
The wings wind up the meandering menu and our march through it for our loyal readers, but there’s much more to The Carolina Tavern story. Lynn’s mentor Pat Conroy often said, “Tell me a story,” so here’s the short version of The Carolina Tavern tale, which is very much a tale of family, friends, food, football, and much more.
Brothers Larry Fries and Ryan Fries own and operate The Carolina Tavern in Port Royal, which opened in 2010. Their Murrells Inlet location opened in 2013 and is operated by Larry’s business partner, Ryan Heenan. Their Greenwood option opened in 2015 and is operated by McKenzie Baldwin. Larry and Ryan Heenan oversee all three.
Larry’s lineage is with Carolina Wings franchises elsewhere in the Carolinas and it shows. The
food, service, and atmosphere at The Carolina Tavern is topnotch. And, so are the 23 large screen high-quality TVs, with the guests picking what game will air on “their’ TV (including several situated in booths and above the bustling bar).
Larry comes from a family of eight, as does Ryan Heenan, and he has three kids. He reports that The Carolina Tavern is very active in the community, including festivals, donations, events, many military milestones (including everything from graduations to retirements), and much more.
Their menu says it all: “For the love of the game and our love for this community.” That’s why we love goin’ to Carolina… The Carolina Tavern, that is.
The Carolina Tavern
1714 Ribaut Road
Port Royal, SC 29935