Foodies Best Kept Secret No More!

It’s no secret to the foodie friends and fans of Hilton Head Island that the island and environs are home to an incredible array of restaurants, cafes, and caterers with talented owners and chefs creating tasty, delectable menus. Hopefully this blog has highlighted some of those who are also embracing sustainable business practices by using in-season ingredients purchased from local farmers, fishermen and purveyors. Some are going a step further by growing their own produce and herbs, teaming with local farmers to compost their kitchen scraps and even “putting up” locally grown vegetable and fruits for later use.

Over the past summer it’s been an awakening I’ve seen for myself at the local farmers markets, among the chefs and restaurateurs I’ve interviewed, in the media and with visitors to the Lowcountry. Recently, special events, held from the bright lights of Broadway to the moonlit skies above our own Coastal Discovery Museum, have brought the one-of-a-kind flavor and the emerging culinary stars of the Hilton Head Island into the national and even international foodie vanguard. In New York, the Conde Nast dining rooms welcomed SC coastal cuisine with dishes prepared by local chef and Food Network Star contender Orchid Paulmeier. A “deconstructed” Lowcountry boil was the showstopper recipe convincing editors and foodie insiders to take a closer look at the burgeoning Hilton Head Island food scene.

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Ode to the ‘Mater at the Sea Grass Grille

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!

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Honey of a Summer at Lee Bees!

On a recent jaunt over to the Bluffton Farmers Market, I turned the corner and ran smack into the sunflower-yellow awning staked by the folks from Lee Bees, Ron Weisburg and his wife and partner, Cynthia Lee Dekun. Just the apiarist(es) I was looking for!

On my last visit I ran out of time before I could talk bees and honey, so they were my first stop on this trip. Ron is actually the apiarist, i.e. beekeeper, taking care of his honey and wax-making kingdom whilst Cynthia creates a fantastic assortment of honey-infused skin products. Now, I am normally more fascinated by the yummy for the tummy honey (and they produce this in abundance) however, I was drawn to the far side of their space first by the herbal scents and skin-soft-as-butter allure of Cynthia’s soaps, creams and shampoos.

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Cheers to Our 2011 Wine Spectator Award Winners!

It’s no secret that this gal is partial to the grape and all it’s wonderfulness. My husband, who easily confesses he never liked wine before our courtship, now regularly relishes a smooth pinot noir in summer as well as a spicy syrah in winter. While I do not pretend to be a wine expert nor an oenophile, I do thoroughly adore tasting wine and even more so creating pairings wine with food. Friends know when they are invited to take a seat at my table for a dinner party I have specifically chosen wines to complement the food I’ve prepared. To me it’s part of the creativity and adds to the fun in planning and executing a delicious meal. Some of the best times in my life include a table full of friends – with glasses full of wine!

Visitors and residents of Hilton Head Island should rejoice that so many local eateries do take their food and wine menus seriously. This year, 11 local restaurants have been recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine for their outstanding wine lists. Three of these, Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte, Red Fish and The River House at Palmetto Bluff received the designation of “Best of Award of Excellence”, a second tier award for establishments that exceed the first tier Award of Excellence requirements with wine lists that display vintage depth or excellent breadth across several regions.

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For the Love of Herbs: Isa’s Gourmet Cooking Delivers

To be honest, I did not grow up with my Mother using a whole lot of fresh herbs in her cooking. She did grow dill, which she used in pickling, curly leaf parsley and some mint, but that was about it. I discovered a whole new world the first time I used fresh oregano and basil in homemade tomato sauce and the first time I used fresh thyme I swore the dry, store-bought version would never again pass my lips. I began growing my own herbs in pots, which I carted from apartment to condo to house. I had my first rosemary plant for almost 10 years, finally bequeathing it to a friend when a long-distance move (and the fact that it was a bushy 4 feet tall) kept it a Lowcountry local.

In Hilton Head Island the wonderfully temperate weather makes for some awesome herb growing conditions, especially if you go the container route and have a sunny spot indoors for the few times tender plants should be protected from cold. And when some plants have nearly completed their growing cycle, I dry or freeze the leaves or blooms.

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Feed Your Soul at The Jazz Corner.

Part of the reason I like to cook is that it can be an incredibly relaxing experience and also provide a sense of accomplishment. I start with a recipe, some ingredients and a certain amount of time and in the end I am happy to gobble up the results. When I combine it with my favorite tunes, even tackling the most challenging recipes can become literally a piece of cake. A little My Morning Jacket…or Allison Krauss or maybe if I’m baking bread, Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes always seems to make the dough rise a little higher.

There’s a real, undeniable connection between food and music. Maybe it’s a deep-rooted human experience, offering more than mere sustenance by moving the pleasure palate through all five senses – smell, taste, sight, touch and sound – simultaneously. I just know it makes me really happy. It

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Soups On! At Gourmet Soups by Daphne

It’s the time of the summer in Hilton Head Island when vegetable and fruit bins overflow with the best of the season. It makes me think about… soup. Well, besides fried onion rings (Vidalia only, please!), roasted corn on the cob and fresh figs drizzled in balsamic honey dressing – but that’s another story or rather, another blog post.

While my Mother made several types of delicious soups, chowders and stews, her claim to fame in the area of brothy, savory delights is her vegetable soup. I don’t think she ever follows a recipe per say, but her best concoctions are always loaded with fresh corn, carrots, okra, potatoes, sweet peppers, and squash simmered in a piquant tomato base. The herbs she uses are sparse – some garlic, a little thyme, perhaps some basil and lots of ground pepper. Occasionally we’d be given a heartier version, by the addition of braised beef bones or ground beef and consommé, but always the fresh garden flavors were omnipresent.

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Discover a Delicious Bit of History at the Bluffton Oyster Co.

It is summer by the sea and that “sea” means seafood to everyone living in and visiting Hilton Head Island and local environs. As I have recounted numerous times here in the blog I am fortunate to have had access pretty much all my life via one relative or friend or another, to the bounty of Lowcountry waters. Whether it was my dad and uncle hauling in baskets of shrimp during one our beach weeks or gingerly picking May River oyster clusters myself with friends in one of the “r” months, it does not escape me that I’ve had it pretty good over the years.

Lots of visitors to our Island’s sunny shores enjoy accommodations that include full kitchens in their weekly rental. If you’re hankering to put that grill on the back deck or that huge 30 qt. steam pot found in the hall closet to use during your vacation and impress your family with great feats of culinary skill, then your seafood bacchanalia awaits.

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Optimistic Orchid says Farewell to Food Network Star.

Episode Six of the Food Network Star proved to be disappointing for our own Orchid Paulmeier. Having been given a “second chance” last week during the July 4th themed episode it was really all up to the contestants, particularly Orchid, Mary Beth and Whitney this week to break through the clutter.

Another Food Network Star, Tyler Florence, host of The Great Food Truck Race, presented this week’s challenge and you guessed it – the food truck face-off was the designated task. The contestants were grouped into three teams with Orchid working with Vic Vegas and Jyll. Each team must also film a commercial to promote their truck and the food they will be serving. The lucky viewers who get to sample the goodies are only allowed to choose their one favorite for noshing based on which commercial they prefer.

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Fieri-Style 4th of July Celebration on Food Network Star

Food Network Star Episode 5 began with Guy Fieri at Mel’s, continued with a July 4th themed Star Challenge and ended with Justin D.’s departure. Hilton Head Islander Orchid survived the challenges to cook another week.

The first challenge featured Season Two winner and host of the popular show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Guy Fieri, welcoming the contestants at venerable Mel’s Drive-In located in Hollywood. As Guy said, “It’s time to mix it up with real folks at diners, dive-ins and dives.” The mission was to tape a 2-minute interview featuring a show intro, chef interview, owner interview, server interview, or closing interview.

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