Ode to the ‘Mater at the Sea Grass Grille

Tomatoes ripe on the vine are a summer-time specialty in Hilton Head Island.

As the balmy days of August recede in Hilton Head Island so begins a bittersweet time of year for local foodies as we say farewell to a favorite southern summer fruit, the tomato, and hello the local bounty of goodness found in autumn’s garden and coastal waters. Plucking the last ruby red local ‘maters in late summer, making a last fresh tart or pie (or even just eating one out of hand!) is a ritual for me going back to my childhood. With a soft sigh my mother would announce, “We’re down to our last Big Boy. I’ll slice it up for lunch.” So we would each get a slice or two, then silently move fork to mouth, eating each bit very slowly, attempting to make that unmistakable and lovely home-grown tomato taste last as long as possible.

However, I put the cart before the horse. These days more farmers, especially here in the Lowcountry are growing in 2 (some 3) seasons and at last week’s farmers market (Hilton Head Island and Bluffton) there were still plenty of local tomatoes to be had. And at Sea Grass Grille there is still their signature Carolina Tomato Pie to be eaten!

Chef Chad Newman relies on the bountiful South Carolina ‘mater crop for this dish – small-farm raised when ripe and hand picked – served as a savory dinner appetizer and as a filling lunch entrée. While the tomato pie is a regular feature on the menu, Chef Chad tells me that the daily specials he creates for the restaurant usually revolve around seasonal ingredients, especially fish and seafood caught locally off the shores of the Island.

He says, “Right now local Trigger fish is running while earlier in summer we had some wonderful pompano and cobia. In May we usually feature fresh soft-shelled crab as a special – prepared only fresh, not frozen.” Many locals love the Sea Grass Grill’s soft shell crab preparation so much Chef Chad has a “call list” of customers to alert when the fresh crabs are on the menu. Impressive!

As Chef Chad reiterated, “Good ingredients make all the difference in any restaurant. Fresh equals quality which makes creating flavorful and delicious dishes simple.” I don’t think I could have said it any better Chef Chad! Thanks to Sea Grass Grille and Chef Chad for sharing their delicious Carolina Tomato Pie recipe. They suggest that if you like the recipe, make some extra pies now while local fresh tomatoes are in season, then bake and freeze them for later use. Now go out and bite into a fresh, succulent SC tomato – before they’re just a sweet, summer memory.

Sea Grass Grille Carolina Tomato Pie

Tomato Pie is a delicious way to enjoy the season’s tomato bounty - Sea Grass Grille offers it’s own version of this summer-time treat.

  • 2 medium tomatoes, slices
  • ½ oz. fresh chopped basil
  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 4 oz. shredded Asiago cheese
  • 4 oz. shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 oz. mayonnaise
  • 1 prebaked pie shell (lightly browned)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While pie shell is baking, toss all ingredients except tomatoes in a medium bowl. Mixture should have a thick, paste consistency. Beginning with the sliced tomatoes on the bottom, alternate layers of tomatoes and cheese mixture, ending with cheese mixture on top.

Bake in oven and bake until top layer bubbles and browns (approximately 25-30 minutes). Let rest before serving (about 15 minutes). Makes 8 appetizer slices or 5 entrée portions.

Make a great party appetizer as well! Simply dice the tomatoes and toss with other ingredients together in a bowl. Spoon ingredients together into mini pre-baked, phyllo shells which you can purchase in your grocers freezer section. Simply fill the shells and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes and serve immediately.