THE ONLY thing I love more than fried chicken is clever wordplay, and Kurtis and Sarah Schumm have managed to satisfy my hankering for both on the south end of Tybee Island.
The proprietors of Tybee Island Social Club and Fish Camp recently added Schumm’s Chicken & Schrimp Hut to their island foodie empire, and the surname puns abound.
The website attributes this cheeky solipsism to Kurtis’ “big ego” and creative spelling skills, but I happen to know it’s a family thing: I once happened into Fish Camp for a cocktail to find the entire extended Schumm clan in town for brother Cody’s wedding, lobbing things like “The groom’s looking very hand-schumm” and “Anyone want schumm more wine?” back and forth.
This match of wits had clearly been going on for decades and was presided over by convivial patriarch Bill, who whispered to me, “there’s schummthing really wrong with these kids.”
The younger Schumms first opened the spaceship-shaped, glass brick building on Inlet Ave. as the Bò Biên Hut in 2015, but the Asian-themed menu proved too complex for take-out and perhaps did not translate well to the average beachgoer’s palate. (“Banh mi” can be hard to pronounce, especially when you’ve been drinking beer all day.)
In rebranding the space, the couple learned a valuable lesson: Keep it schimple.
“The idea is definitely simplicity this time,” vows Sarah, who has once again unleashed her design talents to create an outdoor oasis that is at once magazine-spread elegant and a totally appropriate place to be shoeless.
Picnic tables are shaded by bamboo grass, and pergolas twinkle with fish basket lights after hours. Painted quotes from Frank Zappa, Bob Marley and pro surfer Kelly Slater provide reminders to relax and enjoy.
The menu is equally uncomplicated: There’s fried chicken, there’s fried shrimp, plus a few sides and beachy treats.
However, this is Chef Schumm, so don’t expect soggy coleslaw and greasy bird parts slapped together on a squished bun. The guy who cold smokes his hangar steak and introduced the octopus appetizer to these parts isn’t going halfway.
When it comes to fried chicken, Kurtis is well aware it’s a saturated market. He knew his version of this revered Southern staple had to be outstanding, starting with GMO-free, vegetarian-fed hens.
He’s been testing different techniques for months, consulting with chef friends from New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Atlanta’s Steven Satterfield, who just won a James Beard award.
“I got real geeky about it,” confesses the chef sheepishly before launching into a lengthy explanation of how brining locks in flavors by shutting down cell walls and drawing out meaty juices by osmosis.
Whether you’re into molecular gastronomy or you just know what’s finger lickin’ good, the result of this culinary exactitude is the same: Perfectly crisped skin (aided by a vodka pre-wash to ensure a dry fry) that gives way to tender, seasoned meat. And wait, what’s that smoky flavor?
“We brush the chicken with bacon fat before we dredge it in the flour,” he grins. “So each piece is seasoned three different ways.”
The “schrimp” is given the same VIP treatment, and both proteins come in baskets or on thick slabs of buttered Texas toast with a perfectly crunchy pickle. (Pro-tip: Order sammies with a schmear of pimento cheese for a small upcharge.)
You choose the heat level, which range from the benign “Schiny” to “3rd date”—tingly but won’t singe your tastebuds—to Schummthin’ Hot, which might put schumm hair on your chest. Temper the spice with giant half-moon slices of ripe watermelon or some fresh-squeezed, lip-smacking lemonade.
Meals are rounded out with à la carte buckets of a hand-cut curly fries, or go old school with potato salad (chunky with a mustard kick) or coleslaw (crunchy, vinegary and not at all gloopy; traditional in the best sense.) Everything is made to order so it’s not quite as fast as the drive-thru, but even kids can tell you the mini-corn dogs and chicken nuggets are worth a small wait.
Navigating the hungry families looking to fill their bellies after an epic sesh at the 18th Street surfbreak and catering to island gourmets craving classic, casual fare done with meticulous skill, Schumm’s Chicken & Schrimp Hut has schurely hit the schweet spot.
Speaking of dessert: The Coke float is a fizzy divinity bearing an entire ice cream sandwich and a cherry on top, and foodie fans will be delighted at the one holdover from the hut’s last iteration: Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas on a stick.
“I mean, is there a better beach snack?” wonders Sarah as their pup, Emily, tries to sneak a nibble.
Summer may be on its way out on Tybee, but the Schumms will be holding down the hut at least through mid-October’s Pirate Fest. Operating hours are Wednesday and Thursday 5-9pm; Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 10pm; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The walk-up window stayed busy through last week’s soft opening as Sarah put the finishing palm frond touches on the façade (the strutting chicken mural on the side is Kurtis’ artistic handiwork.)
In fact, the concept seems to be selling itself as barefoot folks follow the scent of bacon-dipped fried chicken wafting down Tybrisa.
While they keep plenty of plates spinning with three restaurants, it seems the Schumms can take a note—and just one more pun—from the hut’s classic rock-themed playlist: Nothing left to do but “schmile, schmile, schmile.”