October 2009

HHPrime, XO Lounge and The Market: “A Nice Balance”

Author: Paul deVere

Earl Nightingale figured local was a good idea. Nightingale is general manager of the Hilton Oceanfront Resort in Palmetto Dunes. In January, 2008, he began a project at his hotel that would redefine its food and beverage offerings for both local patrons and hotel guests. Nightingale’s redefinition included hhPrime, an upscale steakhouse; the XO Lounge, a relaxing, intimate space; and Palmetto Market, a combination sit down or takeout restaurant, grocery and Internet café. “We tried to keep the money in the neighborhood,” Nightingale said of the $3.5 million project. For the local companies who helped create the new spaces (Peeples Construction, Sand Castle Construction and J. Banks Design), the timing couldn’t have been better. While the national economy was going south, Hilton Oceanfront Resort was pumping dollars into the local economy. A nice touch.

Then there is the artwork. Vibrant, impressionistic paintings by islander Peter Karis lend both a tropical atmosphere and a sense of comfortable sophistication to this 10,000-square-foot island of food, drink and entertainment. (Karis’ work has been shown throughout the U.S. and internationally.)

“We wanted to keep a nice balance (of food and beverage facilities) for the resort. A high-end steakhouse, sophisticated lounge, and comfortably priced market,” Nightingale explained. Though not part of the renovations, the Buoy Bar, down by the swimming pool and beach, is the fourth food and drink offering at the resort.

Depending on where you are seated, hhPrime offers six different “atmospheres.” Nightingale said, “You could come into the dining room six nights in a row, sit in a different section each night, and get a different experience.” If you want a wine tasting table, there is a special section just for that. Foodies can sit a few feet from the chefs and watch, or ask questions about a meal’s preparation. The kitchen is open for everyone to see. There are small private islands where an intimate meal can be shared. Second floor seating offers a view, through the trees, of the ocean. Then there is outdoor dining or drinks at the bar.

An unusual feature of hhPrime is that the windows open out to fresh air coming off the beach. People at the bar can be seated inside or out. There is also a fireplace, both inside the restaurant and out, where guests can enjoy their meal in fall, winter and spring, when a nip of cool comes off the Atlantic.

The XO Lounge comes across as both hip and intimate. The oval bar can get lively in the evenings, but there are tables and comfortable chairs for closer conversations. Large screen televisions offer something a little different. “We play CDs of concerts from around the world, so you get a different feel. Someone will say they had never seen that concert before. We tell them that’s because it was in Amsterdam. We just had the Eagles performing in Australia,” Nightingale said. “Of course, if there’s a big sports event, we’ll have that, too.”

Live entertainment comes in Wednesday through Saturday, featuring local favorites like The Headliners, Deas Guyz, and the Simpson Brothers. When the weather is right, doors are open to serve guests at small seating areas outside the lounge. The cocktail and wine menu is extensive, featuring a rather exotic mix of martinis and wines from around the world. XO was recently voted “Best New Nightclub on the Island.”

Nightingale said patrons who frequent the XO Lounge and hhPrime are a good mix of guests and locals. “We define locals a little differently, though. They make up about 60 percent of our customers. They come from other parts of Palmetto Dunes and all over the island.”

The idea behind Palmetto Market is that, from a food and drink standpoint, there’s something for everyone. “Guests never have to leave the property,” Nightingale said. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night, the Market serves meals cafe-style, for eating in or taking a picnic to the beach. Guests can dine inside or outdoors on the Market’s deck and patios.

Since all rooms at the Hilton Oceanfront include a small kitchen, guests can also stock their pantry with everything from breakfast goodies and fresh pastries to deli meats and cheeses, sandwiches, beer, wine and liquor.

For the compulsive business person or Facebook fanatic, the Market is also an Internet hot spot, though the “office attire” can include flip flops, Bermuda shorts and floppy straw hat.

Nightingale has been pleased with the response to the new food and beverage outlets, and generally pleased with this past summer season. “It was excellent. We had 97 percent occupancy,” said Nightingale. He is cautiously optimistic about the future and sees more renovation ahead. “In January we’ll try to do the upstairs ballroom. But we’ll just see how the economy goes,” Nightingale said.

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