Written by Melissa Corbin / Photography courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

Chef-owner Darren Smith of Rivertown Bistro in Conway, South Carolina is one of those chefs that prefers to make dishes from ingredients on hand. “I never go into a situation like whether it’s a market or my walk-in and go, ‘I’m gonna make blank.’ But what I do is look at things that are available and decide,” he explains his process and admits that most everything has “been done already.” So, he would rather make recipes his own with tweaks here and there to “make things interesting for the diner, and to pique their interest.” 

   Piquing their interest, he did indeed with his unique play on PB&J. The ingredient that initially inspired his twist on such a classic is something that has remained a part of his larder for years – boiled peanuts. Yet, he wasn’t aiming for the texture or flavor of a traditional hummus that calls for tahini, lemon, and a little cumin, “I just kept it simple with some mayonnaise and pepper which made it more along the lines of a peanut butter. It’s just texturally different, and not quite as sweet.” 

   When it came down to his jelly interpretation, he couldn’t resist the blueberries from the farmer next to Smith’s boiled peanut vendor at the Conway Farmers Market. Literally farm-to-plate, the market is adjacent to Smith’s second restaurant, Bonfire Taqueria located along the Waccamaw River.

   “I’ve been pickling stuff my whole life,” he explains how he landed on his blueberry jelly riff, “I wanted to pickle them, but I didn’t want them too acidic and vinegary.” That’s where the addition of strawberry puree and sugar came in handy to soften an otherwise acidic blow. 

   At home, Smith’s family prefers to grill their PB&J sandwiches, which is where he says, “It made sense to me to do an open face like a tartine or a crostini with that good grilled bread. I don’t want anything to overpower that peanut butter and jelly combination, but I think it’s really important to grill that bread with clarified butter and some salt and pepper.” 

   But, he didn’t stop there. While researching recipes that included fried boiled peanuts, Smith came up empty handed. So, he opted to fry additional boiled peanuts as a garnish for an added crunch which prompted a certain ah-ha moment, “Hey, maybe we just came up with something new!” 

   Smith’s invention started as an appetizer, but he also created a composed meal for a summer special at Rivertown Bistro, “I thought some caramelized summer squash would also be nice on there. We could leave it at that with some microgreens and have a delicious sort of vegetarian thing or add some pickled or poached shrimp … it can go in any direction and be as substantial as you want.” 

   If you’d like to try your hand at such an epiphany, Smith offers insight. With autumn well on its way, he encourages you to “don’t be laser locked on your original idea.” If you like the pickled blueberries, but can’t find them at the farmers market, he suggests pickling grapes instead. Or, as apples are in season, opt to caramelize the naturally sweet apples in brown butter, “So it’s like a caramel apple peanut butter situation going on.”


  • 2      cups shelled boiled peanuts
  • 2      tablespoons Dukes mayonnaise
  • 1½  tablespoons boiled peanuts cooking liquid
  • 1tablespoon good quality olive oil
  • 1½  teaspoon sugar
  • 1      teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • Place peanuts in processor with all other ingredients, purée to a nice smooth consistency, taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.
  • 1½ cups champagne vinegar
  • ¾        cup sugar
  • 1      cup puréed strawberry
  • 3      cups fresh blueberries
  • 1   teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1   teaspoon cardamomPinch of black pepper
  • Bring the vinegar, sugar, strawberry, salt, cardamom, and pepper to a simmer. Then pour the hot liquid over the blueberries. Let come to room temp, cover, and refrigerate.
  • For the fried peanut garnish, simply shell the peanuts, dip them in seasoned flour, egg wash, and then back into the seasoned flour. Fry until crispy in peanut oil.
  • Assemble components atop fresh-baked and lightly grilled focaccia.

CHEF DARREN SMITH’s uncommon culinary talent is evident, it was his brother Scott who was instrumental in getting Darren interested in the culinary field. Darren, who attended Winthrop University, first met Cyndi, a graduate of the College of Charleston, while he was working as executive chef of Shem Creek Bar & Grill, One Eyed Parrot, and Banana Cabana. The couple moved to Cyndi’s hometown of Conway in 1994 where, at the age of 25, the two opened the Rivertown Bistro. For over a decade the restaurant grew in reputation and size. In December 2005 the family also grew with the addition of Sophia Claire Smith, who was adopted from Guatemala. This was the first time both of the Smiths were away from the restaurant during its busiest season. In 2008 a fire devastated the Bistro, but the Smiths decided to rebuild. It speaks to the quality and closeness of the staff that of the 21 employees before the fire, 19 returned. Darren’s sous chef of 10 years and great friend Billy Greene was one of the employees that did not return. Greene passed away in July of 2008 at the age of 37. He was a big part of the Rivertown Bistro and still is.