This Catch 22 Is No Paradox...FRRRRESSSSHHH!
Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Let that word just roll off your tongue and purse the lips for the ssssssshhhhh part. It’s a two-syllable word if you do it right, and it’s one of those onamonapia words. It somehow is just what it sounds like.
It’s such a fun word to say, and when it is shows up at your back door and gets unloaded frrrresssshhhh right into your big walk-in cooler, you definitely know it when you see it. Sometimes it’s a cobia, still gilling, and about as big as your brother.
Catch 22 is a deliciously comfortably cozy restaurant just off New Orleans Road in the Orleans Plaza Shopping Center, situated just before the road south curls toward the Charles Fraser statue (with his pet alligator). And the folks who own it not only know it when they see it, they also know how important it is to have fresh, local and organic foods (sea fare and land fare) and treasured relationships that make all that possible in their restaurant.
When boat captains take the time and make the effort to deliver a catch of the day direct to your restaurant—yes, it’s that fresh—you know you’ve got something special. When a vegetable purveyor makes twice-weekly runs to the Charleston farmers market to find the freshest local organic veggies, you know you have good things going, serving nothing but the very best.
On this particular Friday, the fresh-off-the-boat special is a scamp grouper, prepared artichoke encrusted, with a Sicilian potato cake with parmesan and fresh basil, served with fresh asparagus, sautéed in char-grilled tomato butter.
For those of us with limited grouper knowledge this is apparently a special kind of fish dish, featuring a fish that’s a step above—a bit milder, a bit whiter, a little bit flakier and a little bit sweeter, according to Daisy Bobinchuck, one of the four owners (consisting of two couples) of Catch 22.
(Pictured left to right: Gary Duren, Penny Duren, Daisy Bobinchuck, Bryan Bobinchuck)
Because Daisy’s husband, Bryan, has carefully developed a variety of friendships and tight business relationships—not to mention trust—with many of the boat captains since Catch 22 opened 11 years ago, the restaurant actually waits, sometimes until as late as 4:30 (the restaurant opens at 5:00) to decide the seafood special of the day. Bryan’s role in all that is especially key, because in addition to being the plumber, the electrician, the HVAC guy, and the flooring and construction contractor, he’s also the chef. It’s a pretty safe bet the food is fresh when the ink on the daily specials menu is barely dry.
It’s been well established over the years that the food is exceptional, which is a large part of why Catch 22 is consistently rated one of Hilton Head Island’s top three restaurants (it says so on their very own website, so it must be true) and why it’s clientele in the last couple of months has included luminaries like Tom Petty and Kenny Chesney, who have enough entourage to find outstanding restaurants wherever they go. They chose Catch 22.
Catch 22 is also a favorite of many of the pro golfers who visit Hilton Head Island, not just during The Heritage, but year-round, and that’s where co-owner Gary Duren comes in. Gary is a long-time golfer and was the head pro at Port Royal for 16 years. He still plays quite a lot of golf, he says, and maintains friendships with many of the PGA and Champions Tour players. And because golfers talk to golfers, the word is out that Catch 22 is the place for great food and just the right kind of relaxed atmosphere after a day on the links.
The list of those who have discovered Catch 22 from the PGA crowd is a long one and includes Lanny Wadkins, Mark Anderson, Stewart Cink, David Feherty and Jose Coceres, who won The Heritage in 2001 and, according to Gary, dined each evening that week at Catch 22, eating the same thing—“rack of lamb, rack of lamb, rack of lamb”—at exactly the same time, in exactly the same booth.
“He’s was playing good golf and wasn’t going to change a thing,” Gary said.
While much of Catch 22’s business is seasonal, just as with any vacation destination, a high concentration of local regulars have discovered the restaurant as well. Those regulars are rewarded with “Early Bird Specials” year-round as a kind of thank you for their steadfast support. The Early Bird hours vary from 5-6:15 p.m. in the summer months to as late as 7 p.m. and beyond during the off-season, which is the thank-you part, according to the fourth co-owner of Catch 22, Gary’s wife Penny Duren.
Penny handles bartending duties when not managing all the financial and personnel elements of a restaurant. Daisy says that Penny “does all the brainy stuff—the numbers things.” But Penny’s passion is running a well-organized, fun and efficient bar, which—other than Daisy or Gary, who co-host—is the first thing a guest sees when coming through the door.
If you take a moment, you can also see some of the unique touches to the bar and the rest of the restaurant that make it not only homey, but also a bit energized. Although Gary is not a wine drinker per se, it was his idea to use wooden wine box sides and bottoms as wallcoverings, which sounds a bit odd but really works when you’re sitting at the bar pondering the mismatched but beautiful wallboards or just looking for something to read.
As the bar room flows into the first dining room and beyond into a sort of patio space at the back, wall colors change from a rich red to a cream, but the artwork stays the same—a collection of wildly colorful paintings and prints by local artist Robert Stanfield. Daisy says that again, like the relationship with boat captains, that a symbiotic relationship is the basis for Stanfield being the exclusive artist at Catch 22.
“We sell his paintings and prints off the wall,” Daisy said, and we don’t take a commission. “For that, Robert keeps us in art. It gives the restaurant a look that we love and so do our customers.”
The pottery accents, she says, are Pier 1.
Although Catch 22 would imply a concentration on seafood, Bryan says the sea fare and land fare is about a 50/50 split. In fact, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the bone-on filet (or the 22-ounce bone-on ribeye for the extra-hungry) The bone-on cuts are aged about 18-21 days, and Bryan says that bone-on aged meat is more tender and flavorful.
“It’s tender because it’s a filet, but it’s flavorful because it’s bone-aged,” Bryan said. “The flavor will rival a ribeye, but it always has that tenderness because it’s a filet.”
Bryan says he thoroughly enjoys preparing fresh fish with local and organic vegetables, but when it comes down to a matter of personal preference, he says, “Give me a good steak.”
Other favorites include jumbo scallops and sometimes folks just have to have some homemade ravioli—also a specialty.
Penny says the naming of the restaurant was absolutely tied to the book. The goal was to come up with a name that customers would remember easily, and who hasn’t heard of Catch 22, the Joseph Heller book that coined the phrase? The restaurant has remained memorable, but perhaps not because of the book. Penny still enjoys reminding customers that unlike the phrase, they don’t have to choose between freshness, price, atmosphere or a really good meal.
“It’s not a Catch 22, she said. “You don’t have to choose, and having one doesn’t make it impossible to have another.”
The paradox of this Catch 22 is that you get all of those and more.