Dining: Get a taste of the Lowcountry in Bluffton, South Carolina
BLUFFTON, S.C. -- The best dining spots in town aren't always easy to find. They're often buried in strip malls, hidden along the main drag, Fording Island Road.
Strip-mall joints generally don't have the vibe or views of the best restaurants on Hilton Head Island, but plate for plate, Bluffton can compete when it comes to tasty eats.
Jim Uremovich, the head professional at Old South Golf Links, said the redevelopment of Old Town Bluffton (home to 18 restaurants and bars) over the past decade has really helped the region.
"They've built some nice restaurants," he said. "It used to be you had to go to the island to do it [dine out]. Now you can stay in Bluffton."
Sterlyn Mitchell, the head professional at Hilton Head National, likes the variety best.
"We've got good local chefs," he said. "You've got anything from pub food to expensive stuff. Sigler's Rotisserie served the best prime rib I've had in my life."
I sampled a wide variety of dining haunts during a weeklong stay in December. If my stomach could talk, here's what it'd say:
Bluffton pub grub
It's hard to decide which bar I liked best. The Okatie Ale House sits in an ideal spot next to the Hampton Inn & Suites Bluffton-Sun City, where I stayed. The food was good, but the vibe was even better, especially at night, when live music took over the outside bar. I even pampered my sweet tooth at the homemade ice cream shop next door.
The British Open Pub actually has three locations in the area, but I found the one in Bluffton along Fording Island Road to be the best for me. I was tempted with the St. Andrews Fish and Chips -- you can never go wrong there -- but I wisely ordered the Royal St. George Shepherd's Pie recommended by a golfer I had met earlier in the trip. If I come back with a few buddies, I'll plan a night out in the little open-air Caddyshack next to the restaurant, home to a fireplace and flat screen TVs.
Captain Woody's Bar & Grill, located in Old Town Bluffton, serves a mean grouper melt as its signature sandwich. I went all-out instead for the Surf-N-Turf, a combination of a 16-ounce ribeye and either clams, shrimp, flounder or oysters. The quaint bar upstairs felt like a true local hangout. Everybody turned and stared when I walked in, then returned to their beers.
Another night I couldn't help but chuckle at the giant blimp hanging over my head at the aptly named Zeppelins Bar & Grill, although a good meal made up for any cheesy factor. Zeppelins is part of Station 300, an entertainment mecca of bowling lanes, live entertainment and arcade games.
Truffles Cafe delivers that chic, upscale experience you'd expect from a golf destination. I went for southern comfort food and fell hard for the meatloaf and its honey barbeque glaze.
I didn't sample the menus of the River House Restaurant and the Canoe Club overlooking the May River at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, but the resort has a fantastic reputation in golf circles. Plums, the Bluffton Oyster Co. and Robert Irvine's Nosh in the Tanger 2 outlet also came highly recommended. Irvine is a Food Channel celebrity chef.
I didn't eat at any clubhouses, either, but I thought I'd share a little information about them.
It might cost a bit more, but a meal at the May River Grill in the clubhouse of May River Golf Club -- the only nationally ranked course in Bluffton -- will likely impress.
The Web site of the Old South Golf Links touts the "best burgers and breakfast" in Bluffton, but try them to decide for yourself.
Denny Kudak, a regular visitor from Fridley, Minn., recommended eating at Hilton Head National.
"They've got good food and a good staff," he said.
There are a dozen or so chain restaurants in Bluffton, although I did my best to avoid them. I did stop at two regional chains I never see in Michigan.
Jim 'N' Nick's serves spicy, tender BBQ in a lively setting. I'll be back again.
It's all about the pizza and the flat screen TVs at the Mellow Mushroom, where I devoured a Maui Wowie littered with pepperoni and pineapple.
January 14, 2013