A Fork-Licking Feast in the Carolina Lowcountry

June 22, 2011

The South has some of the best food in the entire country. Period. You can fight me on that if you want to, but I’ll send you to New Orleans or one of those hole-in-the wall “We ain’t got no mo’ yams baby what else you want?” restaurants in Georgia and make a believer out of you. Soul food is named so for a reason. There is a rich tradition, sweat equity and some elbow grease folded into each morsel of food that makes each dish more robust than the average American fare. So when I read this passage from the menu at Roasfish and Cornbread, I knew I was in for a treat.

“I was born in the Low Country. I was raised in My Great-Grandmother’s Gullah kitchen. The recipes were not written but the flavor was etched on my tongue like hieroglyphics on papyrus paper.”

These heartfelt words from Chef David immediately piqued my curiosity about this new restaurant that my mother had read about in a local paper that morning. This wasn’t just some new business venture from a culinary school wannabe. This man had a passion for food and as I looked over the menu, I had a feeling that his passion was about to be translated into a party in my belly.

My first sip of the sweet tea was diabetically sweet with a tinge of lemon, assuring me that we had found ourselves an authentic southern restaurant. For the appetizers, my Dad selected the Alligator since I had never really had it, and I chose the Conch Fritters. Both dishes met a swift death as we devoured the perfect blends of lowcountry seasoning and fresh seafood.Β  The alligator was not tough or fishy as I’ve experienced in the past, and the conch fritters had actual recognizable pieces of (wait for it) conch inside. Call me crazy but quite often restaurants add a lot of filler (bread crumbs, corn meal, randomness) in the fritter and leave you searching for the meat.

Port Royal Platter

For our main courses I chose to go for the dish with the most options to try different things: The Port Royal Platter. This feast included blackened tilapia, shrimp, scallops, a crab cake and oysters as well as my choice of two sides, mine being their popular collard greens and signature Sweet Potato Cornbread. My Mom ordered the Whole Roasted Flounder and my Dad got the Grilled Tilapia. We completed our order with an extra side of lowcountry rice and agreed to share everything.

Until I tasted the first bite of my blackened shrimp, at which point I wanted to build an electric fence around my plate to discourage wandering hands and forks. Blackenening seafood is a skill that is mastered by few and far too often ends up overcooked or some sad BBQ knockoff. The seafood on my plate made me want to get up and do the cabbage patch right there at our wooden picnic table on the terrace (but I refrained because the man who taught my etiquette classes in high school lives in SC and would be devastated if he saw me). The seasoning was just spicy enough to satisfy my Louisiana heritage and the seafood was perfectly cooked and served piping hot. The collard greens weren’t greasy or overloaded with hog maws and such (what is a maw anyway?), but extremely flavorful and accented by sundried tomatoes that had soaked up all the savory pot liquor.

Just when I was ready to calm down and eat like I had home training, I tasted the Sweet Potato Cornbread. As I took my first bite I heard my tastebuds cue the Electric Slide, and every single one of them got up off their chairs and hit the dance floor for a full fledged house party in my mouth. It was like Sweet Potato Pie meets Jiffy meets Madea. Huge chunks of sweet potato, hints of cinnamon, and brown sugar complimented the savory spice of my seafood and officially took my plate from a 9 to a 47 on a scale from 1 to 10. My plate was Finger Licking, Run-Tell-That, I’d Like To Thank The Academy Good and the only thing that kept me from inhaling the entire thing was wanting to have more the next day.

RIP Roast Flounder

I had a forkful of my mom’s Whole Roast Flounder but as you can see it didn’t last very long. And Dad’s Grilled Tilapia had done a disappearing act by the time I came up for air from my own plate. Our only regret from the evening was not finding the restaurant sooner. We used Yelp and Trip Advisor to choose our restaurants throughout our week’s stay on the island and if it had not been listed in one of those random papers only mothers read, we would have never discovered it.

Chef David Young dishes up a plate with volunteer chef Lynn Hicks during a culinary festival in Bluffton.

After I finish this review, I plan to head over to every major restaurant portal to let lowcountry residents as well as seasonal visitors know that before you try any other restaurant in Hilton Head, check out Roastfish and Cornbread first. Chef David will not disappoint you and I promise the flavor of whatever you order will be etched on your tongue like hieroglyphics on papyrus paper, hopefully prompting a repeat visit like the table of 10 behind us that day and hopefully a review of your own.

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