The Wife and I like to travel, mainly just to get away from the daily grind or see something new. We rarely go any place too exotic or stay at a hotel that is over-the-top luxurious. Typical middle-class stuff. If someone offered to valet park our Toyota Camry, I’d probably laugh so hard the poor kid and The Wife would become uncomfortable.
However, The Wife is a foodie. When we travel, the one thing I can count on, regardless of destination, is that I am going to eat like a king for the duration. She has a real knack for finding great meals, especially the out-of-the-way places that locals tend to keep to themselves. And over the years, we’ve had tremendous luck stumbling upon places that just look interesting and walking away with an incredible dining experience.
Even if it’s just for one meal a day, we make our vacation memories via our food. While The Wife can dress to the Nines when required, it certainly doesn’t take a white table cloth and 29 Zagat rating for a restaurant to gain our unflinching loyalty. This year’s getaway to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, was no exception.
Below is our food log. Maybe my grading curve isn’t tough enough, but I don’t think I would tell you to avoid anyplace that we ate all week.
After the long car ride from Lexington, ease of consumption was our only requirement for our meal as we drove onto the Island Sunday night. Giuseppe’s Pizza fit the bill for some comfort food. The Wife seemed pretty happy with her Veggie Salad, and half of the medium Giuseppi’s Special Pizza (Pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushroom, onion, green pepper and black olive) was more than enough to fill me up. It wasn’t the “greatest pizza of all time,” but it was better than I expected to find in Hilton Head.
The Wife made me promise that we would do at least one fancy, romantic dinner out together. The Red Fish of Hilton Head fit the bill nicely. It had all the trappings of a trendy, chic restaurant that offered primarily upscale seafood with unique presentations. The creamy blue crab dip was a particularly decadent appetizer to start the meal. We each ordered one of the two specials. I could barely finish my generous portion of fresh caught Wahoo. The Wife barely got that far with her Sheepshead filet. Both meals were prepared excellently, but frankly, they just weren’t that tantalizing fish species.
Captain Woody’s on Hilton Head is a Kentucky Wildcat friendly sports bar with a good seafood-themed pub menu. We sat at the bar and made small talk with the bartender and a couple locals that were starting or ending their evenings there. My fish tacos were fantastic, filled not only with excellent blackened fish chunks, but a delicious chipotle sour cream. It would have been a great place to stay and watch the UK later that night, but the next morning’s tee time conflicted with the 9:12 p.m. tip-off.
On the way home from Captain Woody’s, The Wife fell in love all over again. No, not with me, but with the Italian styled ice cream at Pino Gelato. This little corner store front in the Wexford Plantation is actually the headquarters for a burgeoning franchise of gelaterias across the South. Despite the unseasonably cool temperatures, we couldn’t keep ourselves out of this delicious shop twice more before we left Hilton Head. One scoop of this thick, creamy delight proved plenty, as my choices included Mint Chocolate Chip, Wintermint Chocolate, and Tiramasu. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite, it’s a futile effort.
One of the big surprises we discovered on Hilton Head was an authentic cajun/creole restaurant that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Despite being the morning of Ash Wednesday (a/k/a the morning after Mardi Gras), we were blown away by the breakfast at Kenny B’s Cajun Seafood Hut. The Wife and I split a couple hot, fresh beignets to start. The chicory coffee was ideal to help wash down the delicious crab cakes Benedict that kept me full until after my round of golf later that afternoon.
For dinner Wednesday, we decided to visit the newest incarnation of our Hilton Head version of an old, reliable favorite. The Skull Creek Boat House was formerly the Boathouse II, which had been great to us in the past with a fun atmosphere and wonderful, fresh seafood. Tucked away next to the Skull Creek Plantation on the northeast end of the island, the restaurant’s waterfront patio is a big attraction on warmer, friendlier days. Nonetheless, we had a blast chatting up the locals and sampling three appetizers from the new menu at the bar. The lump crab cake, shrimp quesadilla, and blackened fish tacos were all fantastic (the unique quesadilla was my favorite). Though we shouldn’t have, we topped off the night with the snickers caramel cake desert that induced an instant food coma and required at least 8 hours to sleep off.
It’s hard to justify driving through both Carolinas without sampling some of their signature barbeque. Bullies BBQ on the main strip provided an enormous beef brisket sandwich, complete with slaw, fries, pickles, and my choice of no less than five house sauces. The Carolina mustard sauce and vinegar sauce were both delicious, tangy, and exactly what you’d expect from an authentic Carolina rib joint. Two serious thumbs up, and one regret: that I didn’t make it back to Lexington with jars of those barbecue sauces.
One of the restaurants that came highly recommended to us for non-seafood on the island was Charbar Co. It’s a trendy little storefront restaurant with live music, and specialized in choice cuts of meat made into a variety of juicy hamburger and cheeseburger options. The Wife’s “diet” and loathing of blue cheese kept her out of my buffalo blue chips appetizer. However, she and I were both raving about the Champ burger after days eating there.
The Hilton Head Diner fills a conspicuous space smack in the middle of the busiest stretch of the William Hilton Parkway. This place is straight out of 1950’s Americana, except thankfully you can’t smoke inside. I assume the hurricane conscious planning and zoning codes are all that kept this gem from opening in one of those iconic Airstream style trailers of yesteryear. There was nothing coastal or Lowcountry about this joint, which could have been on the side of any highway in the United States. If you are feeling homesick, a tall stack of pancakes, side of links sausage, and bottomless cup of black coffee will more than fill your comfort food quota.
Continuing our tradition of lucking into amazing dining experiences, the newly opened Lucky Rooster ended up being our second fancy, romantic night out to eat. Similar to Proof in Louisville, the Lucky Rooster provides a local-centric, unique and eclectic take on Lowcountry cool, with the menu changing daily depending on what can be freshly acquired. My wedge salad contained one the most amazing garnishes I’ve ever seen: bacon croutons. Neatly arranged around the fresh head of iceberg lettuce and giant blue cheese crumbles were these scrumptious cubes of locally cured thick cut bacon. It was almost like the salad came with a side of country ham. Just when I thought the restaurant had peaked at the intro course, the red snapper presentation gave me a new appreciation for what is a fairly boring piece of fish. I was sold on the fact this newcomer is definitely going to make it, a fact topped off by the banana pudding in a mason jar desert course.
The British Open Pub is just what you’d think it is. Lots of union jack flags, Open Championship and other golf memorabilia, beers on tap from the British Isles, and a seafood heavy pub fare menu. It would be the perfect place to drop in after a round of golf to let the loser payoff his “buys lunch” wager.
For our final meal on Hilton Head Island, we headed back to Kenny B’s for dinner. I know it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I can’t recommend the Whistle Stop Po-Boy (bbq shrimp topped with provolone cheese, remoulade sauce, fried green tomatoes, lettuce) strongly enough if you’re into that kind of thing. The whole-sized sandwich is more than enough to make a meal or two out of, and the red beans and rice were authentic and delicious.
Finally, a word of caution on dining out on Hilton Head: despite all the snowbirds and transplants, make no mistake, Hilton Head Island is in Dixie. When you order a sweet iced tea, is will be sweet. A couple iterations I ordered bordered on justifying classification as syrup. Personally, my tea isn’t sweet until it makes my teeth hurt, so it was a nirvana of sorts for me. You have been warned.
Like I mentioned, I ate like a king all week long. If you are heading to the Island, I hope you find this little food log helpful. Cheers, happy eating, and try to keep your food out of your beard.