Brunch, Island Style
Nothing beats a mid-morning feast on the beach.
By Stratton Lawrence. Photos by Hunter Mcrae.
Drawing weekend diners to the beach is as easy as the promise of a lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon kicked back in a lounge chair by the sea. But the geographical appeal of brunch on the beach means that competition has given rise to a multitude of options.
On Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms, that’s to the bene ft of islanders, out-of-town visitors and Charleston locals who flock to these two bastions of brunch every weekend, where a bevy of new and classic restaurants dish out their very best while the sun is still arcing toward its summit.
Duck confit and potato hash. Biscuit bread pudding with shrimp gravy. Beet-cured salmon flatbread. These aren’t your typical meat-lover’s omelets or eggs benedicts with Canadian bacon. They’re staggeringly creative and downright delicious meals offered up every weekend at the array of restaurants furthering the cause of the beach brunch.
We went in search of the islands’ very best and are happy to report that it’s a complete toss-up of satisfying success stories.
THE PROLIFIC PIONEERS
“I love duck, all the time,” Taylor Still, the chef and owner at High Tyme on Sullivan’s Island, says. That explains the reasoning behind the decadent potato hash and duck con ft on their Sunday brunch menu, graced with a fried duck egg and just-the right-amount-of-rich hollandaise. Or, opt for local grouper, pan seared over grits with baby heirloom tomatoes.
It’s these sorts of confident spins that redefine what a late (or second) breakfast can be, and that earn the Middle Street hot spot a packed house every Sunday afternoon. (Rumor had it that country crooner Darius Rucker had dined there just before our arrival on a recent spring weekend.)
Just down the street, The Obstinate Daughter has already reshaped expectations of beach dining in its two years on Sullivan’s. The standout item on a brunch menu that ranges from cassoulet to pork copper steak? A beet-cured salmon flatbread designed to take advantage of the restaurant’s renowned pizza dough while turning lox skeptics into full-on converts.
“We make a beet puree with brown sugar, salt and gin, and then rub it into the salmon,” explains chef de cuisine Will Fincher. The fish, sourced from the Faroe Islands of Scotland, sits for a few days, taking on a beautiful, striking purple hue and pleasantly acidic favor, before receiving a second rub of horseradish, dill, tarragon and, of course, more gin.
“It’s not cooked at all. We just let it cure for about five days, total,” says Fincher. The salmon is then paired with Charleston Cream House cream cheese, whipped with local butter and then spread with capers, herbs, poppy and sesame seeds over the flatbread.
Pair those tastes with a striking but simple, bright room, adorned with reclaimed wood and deep blues and whites that hint at the island’s nautical history, and it’s easy to see why the Obstinate Daughter’s tables fill up immediately after its doors open each Sunday.
THE CREATIVE CLASSICS
Over on the Isle of Palms, Acme Lowcountry Kitchen’s chef Frank Kline is also discovering ways to build loyal, repeat clientele, by rewriting the rules of the eggs benedict. His daily menu (Acme offers brunch seven days a week) typically includes at least eight different benedict creations, but weekenders can choose the Triple Benedict, an ever-changing “best of” selection that’s perfect for the indecisive diner who knows they want eggs, but also dreams of pork belly or soft-shell crab. “My goal is to always have a local seafood item, a meat or protein or something of that nature, and a third that’s either vegetarian or something super playful and fun,” Kline explains.
A recent Triple included sublime fried oysters, perfectly cooked to retain their texture (even when doused in yolk after splitting the poached egg atop them), rich and flavorful short rib (slow cooked for eight hours) and a third “garden benedict” with three varieties of local, hydroponic heirloom tomatoes from Holy City Farms. A typical Sunday sees around 50 orders of the iconic trifecta.
Just up the road, Isle of Palms locals and visitors alike have a dependable new option in The Refuge. Although it’s the adjacent Refuge coffee bar that may initially draw people in with signature drinks like a hot chili Mexican Mocha and growler fills of cold brew, they’ll likely soon be enticed by a daily breakfast menu that includes satisfying dishes like a baked avocado and egg over grits, egg white quiche and steel-cut oatmeal, along with traditional breakfast sandwiches and platters.
On weekends, the brunch menu expands to include benedicts, French toast and even a healthy stack of “surfer-bod” pancakes made with almond four, served in an airy, bright space with ample lighting and a relaxed vibe.
THE STALWART STAPLES
Of course, brunch doesn’t always have to be about pushing the limits. Sometimes we just want comfort food, a taste of home, or a familiar favorite.
For three decades, the Sea Biscuit Café on the Isle of Palms has played that role, offering hearty omelets, quiche and French toast every day of the week, in an atmosphere that harkens back to the island’s low-key days. The yellow cottage, with its tin roof and tiny dining room (plus a cozy side porch) fills up quickly on weekends, but the diners patiently lined up outside don’t mind waiting on the welcoming front porch for the chance to step back in time once inside.
Across the street, the Long Island Café has also attracted a steady clientele of loyal locals since 1986. Reinvented in 2012 by owner/ chef Ravi Scher, the restaurant’s strip mall environs belie the cheery seashore vibe inside, where dishes like crab cake benedict fly off the line every Sunday afternoon. Scher doesn’t subscribe to food trends, instead opting to keep his focus on “trying to get the best ingredients and not messing them up,” keeping dishes simple with his seafood-centric menu.
It’s hard to justify eating “in,” with options on the islands ranging from the nouveau to the comfortably familiar. The only downside to the feast of brunch options on Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms? The word is out, so set your alarm and claim your table.