Had an interesting conversation this week with Bonnie Lowery, owner of Old Fort Pub on Hilton Head Island. We were over there doing some shoots ahead of the Hilton Head Wine and Food Festival when we got to talking about wine on the island. She told me she remembered when they couldn’t get good wine on the island at any of the restaurants. “No one would come South of Charleston. Before 278 went all the way to 95”, she said. That reminded me of my first visit to Hilton Head Island in 1990. We drove up overnight from Miami, got off of the highway in Hardeeville and made our way through back roads until we got on the main highway that took us over a huge bridge out to this island oasis. Little did I know that eight short years later, I’d move to this area. Even more, little did I know that I’d be writing about all of the wonderful food and wine that island has to offer.
If you make your way to the Low Country with any regularity then you know the long list of choices you have for wonderful dining experiences. The Old Fort Pub is certainly on anyone’s go to list. It should be if it isn’t. Their claim to fame? Beaufort County’s only AAA Four Diamond restaurant. So they certainly have that going for them. Seriously though, it is a huge honor and just one of the places that will be highlighted on the island during the upcoming Hilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival.
The list of restaurants holding wine dinners the week of March 10th-15th is significant. Ombra, Sage Room, Wiseguys, Redfish, CQs, and on and on and on. If you know the island, then you know the list is a who’s who of culinary talent on the island. Old Fort Pub is on the list and they are going to try something that, frankly, I’d never heard of. They are calling their dinner a “side by side” pairing. Two wines to try with each course. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.” Executive Chef Keith Josefiak tells me, “This is one of the few times a year where we can open the box and have some fun with everything we have access to.” I know for a fact chefs get excited when they get to do a variety of things not on their menu. Chef Keith is planning four courses, again each with two wine pairings. The courses will include Wild Atlantic Shrimp and Crab, Roasted Medallions of beef with house made beef jerky and much more. It was hard for chef to contain his excitement when he was talking about the menu, you can tell he and the staff at Old Fort Pub really enjoy these events. Especially a week long event throughout the island. “It is a celebration of great food and great culinary talent”, Ms. Lowery tells me. “You feel the energy all over the island during that week and everyone tries to get out to enjoy at least some of it.”
Believe it or not, this is the 29th year they’ve been holding the Wine and Food Festival. It has grown tremendously. The “Grand Tasting” on Friday night the 14th is worth the price of admission in the first fifteen minutes. I got to attend last year and the selection of wine frankly wasn’t what I expected. It by far exceeded what I thought we’d get. Many times at big wine tastings like that you’ll get to try some wines that are in the $25-$35 a bottle range. Some you like, some you don’t and you move on. At Hilton Head’s Grand Tasting, we were regularly coming across bottles that retail in the $45 range. I had a few that were even higher than that. I remember a distributor last year telling me, “Yeah, for this tasting we really bring out some great wines.” He wasn’t kidding.
Of course the entire week culminates with the “Public Tasting” on Saturday, March 15th. It’s an outdoor event with no shortage of great wines to taste. To be fair, you won’t find much of the higher end juice that you’ll find the night before, but it is still a great opportunity to chat with some people about what you like and don’t like and maybe learn something new. We know there are quite a few of you on this side of the river that enjoy trying new wines (some a little more than others, right?) but it is a great time in a great setting.
Seriously speaking, the week-long event on the island is top notch. Twenty-nine years in, the folks putting this party together know what they are doing. There is great food, great wine, great atmosphere, great fun all in one spot on the island. I’ll be there, enjoying as much as I possibly can. I’ve been looking forward to it since it wrapped up last year. Any of those dinners are going to be great, I’m sure but the Grand Tasting is something you will very much enjoy.
I’m just glad someone decided to extend Highway 278!
See you on TV.