Can a fine dining restaurant survive being open six days a week for four hours each night? Industry experts might say no, but Executive Chef Charlie Sternburgh of the May River Grill tried it in 2007 and he is still going strong. The secret? Make it about the food. If it is fresh, local and prepared well, they will come. Give them lots of variety, and they will come often.
Location: A-1263 May River Road. Bluffton, South Carolina
Bluffton is the mainland town just before crossing the bridge to Hilton Head Island. Even with lots of great restaurants on the island, it is worth crossing back over the bridge after a day at the beach to visit Chef Charlie at the May River Grill.
Menu: Multiple menus are one reason this place is appealing. The main dinner menu is abundant with locally procured options. There is no question that fresh seafood is famous in the Carolina Low Country. This is also a rich agricultural area. The May River Meatloaf is a blend of veal, filet mignon, lamb, and pork, celebrating a variety of great meats all in one dish.
The gluten-free menu showcases ten entrees and three desserts. When you are cooking with fresh ingredients, it is easy to make delicious gluten-free meals, so Chef Charlie gives these careful and conscientious diners plenty of options. Even if you are not a strict gluten-free diner, you might just want to ask to see the menu for a larger choice of savory options.
The Kids Menu is just as generous. Eight options for kids, including a variety of pasta and chicken, a quesadilla and a burger will make kids feel like first-class citizens. Kids don’t always get so many options when dining out. Fresh vegetables are available, as are any side dishes on the regular menu. What makes children feel extra special is the complimentary Mint Chocolate Mousse for dessert.
Early Bird dining is part of the local culture. Due to the high number of tourists, restaurants lure vacationers off the beach and into the restaurants with special dinner pricing. Arrive between 4:45 and 5:15 and get your order in by 5:25. You will find a three-course offering of soup or salad, your choice of numerous entrees, fresh fruit cobbler with whipped cream for dessert and an iced tea or soda for $20.95.
Thoughts: The open kitchen means olfactory senses are heightened as soon as you enter. Is it the B’Town Baby Back Ribs you smell, or Pete’s Crispy Duck with blackberry brandy glaze? Tables are close together, creating a cozy, intimate atmosphere. I was curious about the nameplates on the back of the chairs. They honor the regulars who helped keep the lights on when the restaurant first opened.
Use GPS to get there. The restaurant is modestly signed. Did I mention, it is all about the delicious food? Make reservations. This place is popular, and there isn’t a lot of room inside to stand around and wait.
Price Range: Starters $11, Oysters $12/ ½ dozen, Salads $6-$13, Entrees $22-38
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