Located 13 miles north of Charleston, the barrier islands of Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are as rich in history as they are in beauty. Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, was built in 1776 to defend Charleston against British attack. The soft palmetto logs that formed the walls of the early rampart absorbed the British shells during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, in which the Patriots emerged victorious. (After that battle, the palmetto tree was adopted as the South Carolina state symbol.)
Today the wide, sandy beaches on Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island each have a different feel. In high season, the public beach park on Isle of Palms has a resort ambience, while Sullivan’s is more laid-back and residential. Also on Isle of Palms, private Wild Dunes resort encompasses two championship golf courses, a tennis center, a host of accommodations for rent, and the resort’s only hotel, The Boardwalk Inn.
As you’d expect, eateries on Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are overwhelmingly casual, with beach bars holding sway on several blocks of the Ocean Boulevard strip in the former and along Middle Street in the latter. There are, however, several options for fine dining – some even boast ocean views.
Sea Biscuit Cafe
A tiny place with a big reputation, the Sea Biscuit Café is where the locals gather for their morning meal, just a short walk from the oceanside strip. You can go as light or heavy on breakfast as you like here. The Treehugger (homemade granola, vanilla yogurt and fresh fruit) will satisfy smaller appetites, while those desiring more filling fare must choose between French toast, stacks of pancakes, omelets and sausage biscuits. There's always a daily breakfast special to complement house signatures such as corned beef hash and shrimp with gravy. Don't be surprised if there's a wait for a table – especially in summer – but rest assured that the line moves quickly. (843-886-4079)
Take a break from the sun at this beachfront bar and restaurant, where you can sit outside on the covered deck and still enjoy a view of the sand and surf. Signatures include Joe's coconut shrimp, Steph's shrimp and grits, and the grouper sandwich (served fried or blackened). Come happy hour, the breezy rooftop deck (open April 1 through Labor Day) is a perfect perch to have one of Tequila Ted's 14-ounce specialty drinks and quick-to-the-table "Zappetizers" like creamy crab dip and Joe's Gumbolaya, a fusion of New Orleans-style gumbo and jambalaya. Live music sets toes to tapping on the deck nightly. (843-886-0046)
Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ
For smokin' hot barbecue, Fiery Ron's on Sullivan's Island is the place to be. Founded by CIA-trained chef and pitmaster Aaron Seigel, this barbecue joint dishes up heaping helpings of made-from-scratch comfort food, from pulled pork to cornmeal fried catfish. Platters come with cornbread and two sides, including Southern classics such as Brunswick stew, collards and creamy grits. The atmosphere recalls a college bar, complete with walls papered with promotional posters for bands and college football airing on the TV. On weekends, live music (rock, blues, country) entertains diners. Families are welcome, and the likes of Lil 'Q and fries and Tacos for Tikes please the palates of young patrons. (843-883-3131)
There always seems to be a boisterous crowd on the front porch of this quintessential beach hangout, located two blocks from the ocean on the small commercial strip on Sullivan's Island. Inside, the casual décor and menu both celebrate the life and times of author Edgar Allen Poe, who was stationed at nearby Fort Moultrie for 13 months, beginning in November 1827. Poe's is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and is the local go-to for a burger and a beer. Juicy half-pound burgers are made from Angus beef, ground in-house and cooked to order. Variations, many honoring the namesake author's stories, range from The Raven (a plain burger) to the Tell-Tale Heart (topped with a fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese). (843-883-0083)
Long Island Cafe
Opened in 1986, this little gem tucks into a small shopping strip just over the IOP Connector Bridge. Long Island Café underwent a facelift of both its dining room and menu in 2012, when restaurateur Michael Proetto and Chef Ravi Scher purchased the café. On the revamped menu, creamy she-crab soup or Tobey's littleneck clams (from nearby Breach Inlet) make perfect preludes to baked, crab-stuffed shrimp (a favorite from the original menu) and grilled tuna Nantucket, topped with sour cream, capers scallions and parmesan, then glazed under the broiler. Dessert may be a toss-up between two Southern classics: chocolate bourbon pecan pie and hummingbird cake. (843-886-8809)
High Thyme Cuisine
Serving dinner Tuesday through Saturday nights and a popular brunch on Sunday, High Thyme Cuisine is a local find. You might start here with PEI mussels in garlic chile coconut broth or a salad of roasted red beets, grilled asparagus, roasted fennel, goat cheese and orange chile vinaigrette. Then, it's on to the main course: perhaps a pan-seared mahi-mahi with jalapeño grits or a grilled red wine and rosemary hanger steak accompanied by spinach parmesan risotto. Pair your entrée with a wine from the well-chosen list, predominantly from California. On Sundays, the popular Lowcountry brunch dishes up favorites like beef tenderloin Benedict and orange-cinnamon brioche French toast. (843-883-3536)
Acme Lowcountry Kitchen
Everyone loves that little long-established neighborhood restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Acme Lowcountry Kitchen has been a local favorite for years, and even more so since Chef Frank Kline (formerly of The Boathouse) has taken the helm in the kitchen. Kline coaxes big flavors out of local ingredients in sweet-tea-brined chicken, served with homemade garlic barbecue sauce. Carolina succotash blends local speckled butter beans, field peas and corn with applewood-smoked bacon and your choice of protein (from fried chicken to the fresh catch of the day). If you're a lobster lover, drop by on Thursday for Lobster Night: three tails and two sides for just under $20. (843-886-0024)
The Obstinate Daughter
Brought to Sullivan's Island in March 2014 by Executive Chef Jacques Larson of Wild Olive on Johns Island, The Obstinate Daughter prides itself on going against the grain. The restaurant's name pays homage to the Battle of Sullivan's Island in 1776. The American victory inspired a London political cartoon depicting a caricature of the defenders of Charleston as "Miss Carolina Sulivan, one of the obstinate daughters of America, 1776." The same sassy spirit infuses the seasonal Mediterranean-inspired cuisine at this casual eatery, which is couched in an attractive nautical ambience. Pizza, pasta and small plates rule the menu, where "Geechie frites" translate to fried sticks of soft polenta, and lamb collar comes dressed with yogurt, cucumber, almond and mint. (842-416-5020)
A local favorite, this nautical-themed family-friendly restaurant features excellent fresh, local seafood, along with great views of Breach Inlet. The Boathouse offers casual dining both inside and outside on the screened porch (cooled by fans in summer) overlooking the water. Local seafood stars on the menu, which offers signatures such as steak and lobster tail or crab cakes and lobster tail combinations along with daily fresh-catch specials. Sides include some of the best collard greens around as well as smoky gouda mac and cheese. The Boathouse stays packed for dinner spring through fall, so be sure to make a reservation. (843-886-8000)
Coda del Pesce
Chef Ken Vedrinski (of Trattoria Lucca on the mainland in Charleston) brings haute cuisine to the Isle of Palms front beach strip in his new Italian seafood place, whose name means "tail of the fish" in Italian. Seafood reaches new heights in the second-floor dining room, in delectable dishes like calamari Bolognese over house-made bucatini pasta, and local swordfish "Torcino" style with eggplant caponata, served in a casual, brick-walled dining room whose décor incorporates reclaimed wood and windows that look out on the beach below. The wine list shines a spotlight on varietals from all regions of Italy, from Pinot Grigio to Barolo. (843-242-8570)
About M. Linda Lee
As Senior Editor for Michelin Travel Publications for 17 years, Linda worked on the Michelin Guide (the acclaimed red guide to restaurants and hotels), as well as on Michelin’s series of North American travel guides. Now a freelance writer, she is a contributing editor to TOWN magazine, based in Greenville, SC. Her passion for food and travel shines through in her articles in TOWN and in publications such as The Local Palate, Edible Upcountry, Tempus, Southwest Spirit, US Airways Magazine, and on USAToday.com. In her spare time, she promotes "good, clean and fair" food practices through her volunteer work as Co-Chair of Slow Food Upstate.
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