Don't Worry...Be Happy - Parrot Cove Seafood Grill And Bar
Author: David Zunker | Photographer: Mark Staff
“I’D LIKE THE MEMORY OF ME TO BE A HAPPY ONE. I’D LIKE TO LEAVE AN AFTERGLOW OF SMILES WHEN LIFE IS DONE. I’D LIKE TO LEAVE AN ECHO WHISPERING SOFTLY DOWN THE WAYS OF HAPPY TIMES AND LAUGHING TIME SAND BRIGHT AND SUNNY DAYS. I’D LIKE THE TEARS OF THOSE WHO GRIEVE TO DRY BEFORE THE SUN-OF HAPPY MEMORIES THAT I LEAVE WHEN LIFE IS DONE.”
Is it coincidence that when Jimmy Liggett talks of his comfortable, casual Parrot Cove restaurant, tucked around the corner from the King Neptune statue (take a left and then a left again) at Hilton Head’s Shelter Cove Harbour, that he repeatedly mentions keeping customers and employees happy in a laidback style—or does the apple not fall far from the tree?
Robert Liggett, Jimmy’s father, passed away in 2006 at the age of 76. He was a twin, who, with his brother, started a construction company in Columbus, Ohio, built and managed 400 apartments, and was among the first to get into the racquetball club business back when racquetball appeared to be the next big thing.
“They were my inspiration,” said Jimmy. “They were self-made people. I grew up with a hammer in my hand, working summers and weekends in construction, but always knew I wanted to live at the beach. I also knew I didn’t want to be banging that hammer for the rest of my life”
The Liggett family vacationed in Myrtle Beach, but just before graduating from Hocking College in 1984, with a degree in the culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management, Jimmy and friends discovered Hilton Head Island. Of the 30 or so who came down that summer, most decided to come back and stay to work in restaurants, become firemen, open retail stores and get into real estate.
Jimmy quickly became chef at the Long Cove Club, then the Café de la Place in Wexford, owned at that time by the Rossman Corporation (owners of Damons). He opened restaurants for Rossman in Boca Raton and then in Atlanta; but during the hot summer of ’86, he bumped into Scott Allen, who at the time was general manager at Harbourmaster restaurant on Hilton Head Island.
“We talked, he talked beach, and I immediately packed my bags and moved back,” said Jimmy. “I missed the water.”
Later that summer, Hilton Head Island became permanent for Jimmy Liggett. What followed were stints as a scuba instructor, head chef at Harbourmaster, a couple of years schlepping drinks at the Tiki Hut and opening the Factory Creek Landing on Lady’s Island, where he met his wife, Boodle, from Beaufort. “I worked for him then,” she said with a smile. “Now (she gives him a smooch) he works for me.”
From 1998 to 2003, Jimmy was chef at Remy’s Seafood, and then finally, in 2003, he had a chance to open his own restaurant—a thought he’d had all along—and with a particular theme in mind (think beachy, Caribbean, The Keys, Jimmy Buffett and steel drum bands) in Shelter Cover, where Bistro 17 is now located.
It was a small space—900 square feet, with a couple of booths inside and a tiny kitchen. But the Parrot Cove Café was Jimmy Liggett’s alone, and he applied the experience he’d gained, his vast knowledge of Hilton Head Island, a particular passion for seafood preparation, décor by Boodle and a simple philosophy: “Specialize in family dining, give people what they want and make them happy.”
Success of that restaurant led to the most recent move—to a larger space, with about 100 seats and a straight shot to what he calls the “Shannon Tanner stage.” In the summer, the combination of Jimmy’s approach to casual family dining, the nightly entertainment, the Tuesday night fireworks over the harbor, and happy hour values, including all the Alaskan snow crab you can eat every night, has resulted in pleasantly packed evenings at what is now Parrot Cove Seafood Grill and Bar.
Owner Of Parrot Cove Grill
Many nights this summer, Parrot Cove served more than 300 people, while maintaining a calm demeanor, with friendly, efficient wait staff and no drama. This summer Jimmy reports a 30 percent increase in covers compared to a year ago, partly attributed to generally larger numbers of summer travelers and, in particular, to the acquisition of a liquor license last year after three years of trying.
He also points to a “great happy hour,” featuring $3 house wines, $1 off beer, $3 well drinks, that $10.99 Alaskan snow crab special, steamed local oysters, $.45 steamed shrimp and $.45 wings. He also hopes the Parrot Cove can become the fall place to be in Shelter Cove with outdoor TVs for fall football and free Wi-Fi.
Parrot Cove Catering provides the entire menu to those who want to host parties and special events on boats, on the dock or elsewhere. The catering business has served Parrot Cove specialties on 110-foot yachts, at a party to celebrate a five-year sail around the world and at wide ranging gatherings and special events.
The Parrot Cove food philosophy is simple: good food and good portions at a good, fair price. This is not a place that just breads everything to taste the same. In fact, specialties reflect Jimmy’s inclination toward what he calls “country French” cooking—especially his famous crepes, which come in main dish and dessert varieties. The menu also includes southern specialties like ribs and barbecue, classics like filet mignon and prime rib and pastas with a Parrot Cove twist.
But seafood is the star here. The “Sesame Encrusted Tuna with Three Sweet Thai Chili Shrimp” is a favorite, as is the “Seafood Stuffed Flounder.”
A few years ago, when there was time to go fishing, Jimmy would sometimes bring the day’s catch to the restaurant and cook it on the spot. His 11-hour days in the kitchen, shared with Chef Wendell Osborne and two others, prevent that these days, but it’s nice to know a restaurant’s owner knows his seafood. He also appreciates the value of local food purveyors and tries to buy locally whenever possible, all year long—but especially in “R” months when Bluffton oysters are in season.
What it comes down to at Parrot Cove is probably most accurately reflected in the “Boodle” décor inside the restaurant. More than 40 colorful parrots take various forms: paintings, knick-knacks, statuettes and trim pieces, and the rest of the decorations are decidedly nautical. It’s a treasure hunt just discovering all there is to see. And that’s the way it should be, said Jimmy. “The kids love that. We even bribe them with a dip in our treasure box if they clean their plates. And that makes the parents happy,” he said.
Happy kids and happy parents at Parrot Cove. Now why is that no surprise?
Parrot Cove is located at Shelter Cove Marina. For more information, please call 843-341-3500 or find them online at parrotcovegrill.com.