By Hope S. Philbrick
Nothing satisfies the soul like Lowcountry cuisine. Except, perhaps, the Lowcountry itself. Add them together for a truly satisfying vacation destination. Visit Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, if you want impressive culinary experiences alongside the opportunity to dig your toes into sandy beaches.
The Lowcountry, which is comprised of the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, is rich with treasures worth visiting again and again—as often and for as long as possible. Even if you can only stay a few nights on Hilton Head Island, odds are that you’ll depart feeling more well-nourished than you did upon arrival.
Set up home base at the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa. Pampering begins as soon as you pull up to valet parking. Hand over your keys, let a kind bellhop grab your bags, and stroll into the elegant beach-themed lobby and just try not to say “Wow!” It’s gorgeous, and if you can stop staring at the sleek furnishings and gravity-defying sand sculpture, glance out the window at the pool and beach beyond because they’re equally stunning. Check in with the friendly folks at the registration desk, ride up the elevator to your guestroom, and another “Wow!” will fall from your lips, especially if you booked an ocean view room with private balcony. Clean and well-appointed with modern amenities, this resort offers comfort throughout your stay and will linger in memory as a haven long after you’ve returned home.
Whether it’s your first trip to the Lowcountry or you’ve lost count long ago, be sure to stop at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Grab a map at the Discovery house, peruse exhibits to learn regional history, environment, culture, and art, then head outside to see local flora and tour the 68-acre Honey Horn that houses several of Hilton Head Island’s oldest buildings. All this, and it’s free admission!
Drive across the bridge to reach Old Town Bluffton. Park near any art gallery—they’re easy to find!—step inside, and see works by local artists in a range of styles. Nearby are many more galleries, each one showcasing different artists and types of works in a broad range of prices. Old Town Bluffton is small and easy to navigate without fear of getting lost, but if you want to be certain not to miss a gallery pick up a free “The Arts District” brochure with a map at any gallery. There’s something for everyone and finding art that sparks your fancy is a fun treasure hunt.
While in Old Town Bluffton, grab a meal, snack, or even afternoon tea at The Cottage Café, Bakery & Tea Room. Whether you indulge in crab cake eggs benedict, shrimp & grits, fish tacos, pecan chicken & waffle, or Lowcountry crab & shrimp gumbo, your taste buds will thank you and your stomach will swell with satisfaction. But even if you can’t imagine taking another bite, be sure to buy something—among the mouthwatering assortment of breads, pies, tarts, cookies, cupcakes, whoopie pies, brownies, and much more!—at the bakery or you’ll regret the missed opportunity. You’ll appreciate that to-go bag unlike any other.
With more than 250 restaurants on Hilton Head Island, opportunities to indulge in good tastes abound. From Lowcountry cuisine to ethnic dishes, local seafood to imported cheese, there’s an option to indulge any craving. During a weekend getaway, there’s only enough time for a taste of the Island. Consider starting your Hilton Head Island dining discovery with these two eateries:
Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar is where Chef/Owner Clayton Rollison transforms fresh, local ingredients into upscale versions of Lowcountry favorites. The Hilton Head Island native attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, then worked in kitchens including Gramercy Tavern in New York City and Merchants Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, before returning home to open his restaurant in 2013—and he’s been impressing palates ever since. The menu changes to reflect the season and chef’s inspirations, yet always offers a variety of upscale comfort foods with a twist including options such as Nashville hot quail, BBQ shrimp, shrimp & crab rice, and pimento mac & cheese.
Skull Creek Boathouse is Hilton Head Island’s most award-winning landmark waterfront restaurant. Enjoy a waterside view and the vibrant ambiance that suits the marina setting at this eatery serving Lowcountry cuisine so yummy it’s been featured on Food Network. This dining destination sprawls indoors and out, with several seating options including the sushi bar, outdoor bar, and summertime beer garden. Seafood dominates the menu with options including sushi, ceviche, oysters on the half shell, lobster cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, fish tacos, hot peel-and-eat shrimp, Alaskan king crab legs, Sapelo Island clams, P.E.I. mussels, fried fish, Cape Cod clam strips, and so much more! Of course, chicken, steaks, salads, and pastas are available, too. A weekend brunch buffet is a great option if you want to sample as many dishes as possible.
Annual Chamber Ball
Hilton Head Island is a culinary destination, and foodies gather to celebrate local businesses and cuisine at the annual Chamber Ball (which this year was held on Saturday, February 1). This year’s theme “A Night Like No Other,” lived up the hype of the name’s promise by teaming up top chefs from both New York City and Hilton Head Island.
Manhattan’s famed Windows on the World chefs partnered with local culinary stars to present tapas-style haute cuisine—a whopping 20 courses of them!
The event offered the first opportunity for chefs from Windows on the World to work together in a kitchen since 9/11. Seeing the chefs standing side-by-side on stage together was emotional for everyone in the room. More than one participating chef referred to the evening as the “highlight of my career!”
Participating culinary stars included:
- Marc Murphy, Landmarc, “Chopped” judge, and former Windows on the World chef
- Florian Bellanger, former pastry chef at Le Bernardin and “Cupcake Wars” judge
- Philippe Feret, owner of Hilton Head Social Bakery and former Windows on the World executive chef
- Frederic Kieffer, l’escale and former Windows on the World chef
- Kevin Zraly, best-selling author and former wine director at Windows on the World
- Chaun Bescos, executive chef at WiseGuys
- George Delgado, former head bartender at Windows on the World
- Clayton Rollison, owner of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar
- Georges Masraff, Michelin-Star awarded chef, former culinary director at Windows on the World
- Cesar Acevedo, executive chef at Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa
- Sean O’Connell, Atlantis Bahamas Resort, Canyon Ranch, and Desert Mountain Club
- Martin Doyle, Suilan at the Borgata and former Windows on the World chef
- Brian Coseo, executive chef at Sea Pines Country Club
- Arnaud Briand, Ventano Italian Corner and Oyster Bar, and former Windows on the World chef
- Eric Bedoucha, Financier Patisserie
- Tom Roston, author of The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World: The Twin Towers, Windows on the World, and the Rebirth of New York
From savory to sweet, each course offered complex layers of flavor. From appetizers through desserts, each skillful preparation and presentation impressed. Desserts were most generous—in addition to passed plates, tables at the side of the ballroom were heaped with chocolates and macaroons, tempting palates between courses.
In addition to delicious food and drink, the Ball offered photo ops, a silent auction, dancing, presentations, and more.
It’s hard to imagine how the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce will top this year’s event next year; but given its tasty reputation, best to trust that’s exactly what will happen and buy tickets as soon as they become available.
Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa
One Hotel Circle
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
– Photos courtesy Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce or © HSP Media LLC; click on individual images for credit details
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.