Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chef David's ROASTFISH & CORNBREAD, Hilton Head Island

One of my favorite things about visiting the beach is the opportunity to feast on the freshest of seafoods. On our recent trip to Hilton Head, I made it a personal mission to eat as much fish, shellfish, and other marine delicacies as possible - and I uncovered some great eateries in the process.

Many of the restaurants on Hilton Head are designed to attract tourists - and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the service is good and the food is tasty. Still, I prefer to wander off the beaten path and indulge in local flavor as much as possible - and Chef David's ROASTFISH & CORNBREAD is pretty much the definition of local flavor.

The interior - a fascinating work in progress

The menu is steeped in Gullah and Lowcountry tradition (in Chef David's own words, the food 'contains elements of French, Spanish, African and English traditions') and everything, everything we tasted was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that Matt and I made a second trip to ROASTFISH & CORNBREAD for our last meal on the island.

Our first visit provided my very first taste of conch, in the form of a handful of cornmeal fritters studded with large chunks of conch and chopped peppers. I'm always a big fan of the protein-rich flavor of shellfish and the conch didn't disappoint, though it couldn't hold a candle to the soft shell crabs I enjoyed during our final dinner. 

Conch Fritters, the signature Sweet Potato Cornbread, and some amazing Hushpuppies

Soft shell crabs are, quite possibly, my very favorite kind of seafood (or at least right up there with lobster and fresh squid!). I first tasted them as a college student in Maryland and now the sweet-and-salty taste of gently fried soft shells never fails to remind me of the four years I spent on the Chesapeake Bay. When Matt's mom ordered them during our first visit, I just knew I'd have to come back for a few of my own!

Soft Shell Crabs

Matt enjoyed a beautiful piece of Ahi Tuna on our first visit (his recommendation is to order it rare, if you dare!), and a giant, 1-pound plate of shrimp on our second. Of course, we couldn't come to a place called ROASTFISH & CORNBREAD without trying the cornbread, so we both chose it as a side. Even the cornbread here was deliciously different - a rich, amber-colored square of sweet-potato cornbread shot through with actual chunks of sweet potato and topped with a sprinkling of brown sugar. Moist, rich and sweet enough for dessert.

Ahi Tuna, medium-rare

The hushpuppies were another stand-out item. Bronzed and crispy on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside (and flecked with little pieces of corn), these were definitely not your typical freezer-aisle hushpuppies. In case the trio that came with your meal wasn't enough, they were also available as a side option (which I strongly, strongly recommend).

I plan to share a few other Hilton Head finds over the coming days, but lets face it, I'm giving you the very best first (I never was very good at delayed gratification!). I simply can't recommend ROASTFISH & CORNBREAD enough. The service is great and the place is quirky, but most importantly, the food is amazing. And, whether you're vacationing on the beach or filling bellies in your home kitchen, that's what really matters!

Roastfish & Cornbread on Urbanspoon

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