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Bonfire, A Smokin’ Taqueria

  By  Johanna Wilson Jones
Bonfire Beers & Food

Bonfire is smoking good with food and folks

          CONWAY – The twang of country music flowed on a breeze, glided along the Conway Riverwalk, and blended into a cacophony of light laughter and energetic chatter dancing together on the patio at Bonfire. A shoeless, shirtless man dressed only in black shorts with his family climbed off of a boat and walked inside to inquire about outdoor seating. A waitress inside told him they could sit anywhere they wished. Three couples had already found themselves chairs and took in the sights of canoes, jet skis, and other water vessels navigating the Waccamaw River. Inside, more than a dozen patrons had already settled down under a painting of a wild boar wearing a life jacket and plucking a banjo while sitting in a hollowed log floating down an unknown body of water. No matter where eyes fall, it quickly becomes apparent that Bon Fire isn’t your typical restaurant. This smokehouse, at 951 Second Ave., orbits in a different space tucked along the serenity of the Conway Riverwalk. It is an unpretentious grub hub you enter in spiffy, casual, or river-ready attire and be comfortable in a cozy, arcadian ambient where the food you can feel is served. “Here, we are very chill-lax because we want you to feel welcome,’’ said Sofia Smith, Bonfire’s expediter and the daughter of owners, Darren and Cindy Smith. “Come sit on the porch. Come sit inside. Come and drink a beer. Come just enjoy yourself and let us make you feel like family.”

Keen on Smoked Cuisine

            Southern folks know that one of the main ingredients of treating folks like family is feeding them food worth every bite. Heaps of love packed in for good measure. Officially known as Bonfire, A Smokin’ Taqueria, the eatery gives diners varied ways to enjoy smoked meat with American and Mexican favorites. Enter the nacho pie. It’s a flour tortilla masquerading as a big bed for beans, jack cheese, jalapenos, pico de gallo, and a smoked protein. Sour cream and salsa are on the side. It’s listed as an appetizer but can easily make a meal and is ridiculously and magnificently cheesy. The staff at Bonfire are particular about the food they cook and its presentation. Anyone who knows Executive Chef Darren Smith knows he is innovative with flavors and conceptualization – and he has taught his employees to do the same. Bonfire’s kitchen crew is a cohesive unit, with each member knowing the importance of their job. They have fun, but they are serious about their flavor. When time permits, they relish experimenting with existing menu items or creating sassy newcomers to showcase. Colleen Magaw, Bonfire’s morning kitchen manager, makes a moist, delectable bacon-wrapped meatloaf that gets excellent reviews, with some claiming it’s better than their grandmas. She also led the charge in producing a new appetizer that rocks out tastebuds. “The newest thing Colleen came up with was our brisket fries,’’ Smith said. “It’s almost like cheese fries, but with brisket on it. They are really addicting.” Bacon, cheese, scallions, and brisket are layered on top of a mound of fries. Yet, Bonfire has much that makes mouths water and appreciate. The collard greens are a savory addiction. The smoked – yes, you read that right – potato salad titillates tongues. The beer-battered onion rings are colossal and fried to a beautiful golden brown. Ollie Watters, the smoke master, uses hickory and white oak to give the St. Louis ribs, chicken, pork, and other smoked menu members a distinctive flavor applauded by customers. Watters seems immune to the heat blazing from the smokers well over 200 degrees. His arduous work, overshadowed by his prowess, is happily consumed and heavily complimented. Steve and Barbara Crowley, Florence residents, had the Cuban sandwich with shaved ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on a crispy, grilled roll. “It was excellent, ‘’ Steve Crowley said. “I’ve traveled up and down the East Coast, and this Cuban sandwich was even better than the one I had in Miami.”

The Serene Scene

            While they were at their lunch, Steve and Barbara Crowley also took in the tranquility of the Conway Riverwalk – and Bonfire takes advantage of the picturesque outlay. Guests can take advantage of glossy, wood picnic tables lined along the edge of a sidewalk with the Riverwalk in plain view. Huge umbrellas are attached to each table and provide ample shade. The oak, gum, and other lush green trees and vegetation paired with the traffic of boats, canoes, and jet skis on the Waccamaw River is a painting that comes to life that soothes the soul and refreshes the mind. “We enjoy watching the boats go by,’’ Barbara Crowley said after she realized she couldn’t finish her Cuban sandwich. It was too much of a good thing. So, she got her waitress to wrap it to go. “The view is lovely. The wait staff is friendly. It’s been good.” Terri Martin and Rodney Cox cozied up at the bar. The former high school classmates at Conway High are now smitten with each other and like dining at Bonfire. “I like the location,’’ said Martin, as Cox hugged her and nuzzled his chin against her neck. “I love the barbecue and the wings – that’s the main thing I eat. I also like Bonfire because it’s laidback, not pushy or pretentious.” Alisa Jean Haik, the front-of-the-house manager, is perky, energetic, and has a smile that never fades. Her effervescence stimulates everywhere she walks and helps keep the place bubbly. Taylor Rol, a server, flits back and forth quickly, in and out of the kitchen picking up a variety of food hot off the grill and delivering it to tables with agility and aplomb. “Even when things get hectic, we keep a happy vibe,’’ Smith said. “We are friends here.” Indeed, the friendship and fellowship here cause folks to linger in this rustic, calm, Conway corner. “It’s a homey,’’ Martin. “It’s down South, and it’s country.’’

Johanna Wilson Jones

Johanna Wilson Jones has traveled up and down the Grand Strand tasting the foods that make Myrtle Beach restaurants hum with diners, becoming an expert on the region’s flavors. Johanna is also the host of the Finding our Flavor YouTube show where she highlights the ingredients, foods and dishes that make Myrtle Beach unique.