ELA'S Blu Water Grille
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Best seat in the house. Table, I should say. We (Sara, my dining companion for the evening and I) were seated on the wrap-around patio overlooking Shelter Cove Harbour and Broad Creek at ELA’S Blu Water Grille, voted Best Water View Dining in South Carolina by online reservation service Open Table. Lucky for us, the weather was al fresco dining perfect, but even if it wasn’t we’d be okay. Pretty much every table in ELA’S’ bright, airy, casually elegant interior has a window on the Harbour, and the décor, designed by owner Earl Nightingale’s daughter Erin (the “E” in ELA’S), an interior designer at Chicago’s Rowe & Harlow, alludes to outdoors and Shelter Cove’s nautical motif.
You know the location. For almost two decades, Harbourmaster resided on this site, followed by the Ocean Grille. Then, about three years ago, Nightingale bid farewell to some 40 years with Hyatt and Omni Hotels and summoned his son, Alex (the “A” in ELA’S), to Hilton Head Island. “My plan was to help get this started and then return to the financial industry,” Nightingale said, “but I kind of fell in love with what we’re doing here.”
What they’re doing here is carrying on a tradition of success at one of our island’s most venerable food & beverage locations, but clearly, adding their own signature, right down to the name; to finish a subplot, the “L” stands for Lauren, another of Nightingale’s daughters and the apostrophe “S” for a good friend’s son named Sam. The rest, Blu Water Grille, suggests a fresh catch bill of fare. “Caught this morning and on your plate by dinnertime. I think people like that idea, fresh and local,” Nightingale said.
Our server Francesca greeted us with a refreshing glass of bubbly as she explained what was to come. We would forgo the menu and cast our fate with the artfully creative Executive Chef Meagen Mehaffey (meet her in CH2’s Passion for Food issue, September 2013, p. 57). A wise choice, as you will see, from this sampling of ELA’S Blu Water Grille creations, presented with expertise and perfect timing by Francesca and the exceptionally skilled kitchen crew.
First came a selection of appetizers, including fresh lobster nachos with pico de gallo, crème fraiche, fresh cheese and avocado; calamari steaks lightly battered and dunked in a shot glass of wasabi and spicy remoulade; and Ahi tuna tartare with soy sauce atop an avocado, cucumber, green and red tomato slaw. A fresh pear and arugula salad with horseradish dressing and Gorgonzola cheese followed.
No great meal is complete without a good glass of wine; a Gloria Ferrer Carneros pinot noir was our choice as a complement to both land and sea.
“We like to talk about our wines too,” Nightingale said. “We try to find small boutique vineyards. Then we can feature wines for our guests that they’re not going to find anyplace else. This way it’s a special feature, which makes it kind of unique.”
Our next course was locally caught blackened red snapper prepared two ways. For Sara, citrus salsa (grapefruit, orange, jalapeño and basil) finished off with crispy potato sticks and fried basil. For me, corn salsa with green and red tomatoes and avocado, finished with potato sticks and key lime. Of course we shared, and of course both were delicious.
While fresh catch seafood is the usual order of the day, ELA’S also offers delicious grass-fed, no-hormone filet, New York strip and bone-in rib eye steaks to satisfy landlubber palates. For us, an 8 oz. Linz filet mignon done to melt-in-your-mouth perfection before returning to the sea for pan seared diver scallops over crab risotto with truffle butter and a homemade sweet potato chip.
Chef Meagen emerged from her kitchen. “You’re going to be my guinea pigs,” she announced as an enormous slice of decadent chocolate mint ice cream cake—her latest invention—arrived at the table. Sara and I dove in (Yes, Line in the Sand readers, I’ve learned my lesson.) and eventually had to beg Francesca to take it away lest we devour the whole thing. Really, it was enough for a table of four NFL defensive tackles!
We left the table delighted, our appetites fully sated, and vowing to return; but the evening wasn’t quite finished. We had an agenda beyond my writing about our experience. Sara and I ventured into the bar to join Nightingale and general manager/bartender Ken Mehaffey, Chef Meagen’s husband by the way, where Sara unleashed her secret weapon: the NEAT™ glass.
If I learned anything about the folks behind ELA’S throughout this process, it’s that they’re all about getting it right, and they’re willing to try something new and different to achieve that end. In Nightingale’s words, “We really try to appeal to the senses. When you dine out it should be better than what you do at home, right? The food should taste better, look better, smell better, the wine should be better…it’s a whole experience.”
The NEAT (Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) glass is a revolutionary spirits glass, designed to diffuse evaporating alcohol and enhance the more pleasing aromas in spirits served neat, that is, without ice, as the distillers intend. Since flavor is largely determined by sense of smell, the NEAT glass elevates your enjoyment of Scotch whisky, bourbon, brandy, or whatever you choose to imbibe. I had a hunch that these guys would appreciate that.
The result is great news for connoisseurs of top shelf liquors and liqueurs. This month, ELA’S Blu Water Grille becomes the first Hilton Head Island establishment to serve spirits in the NEAT glass, the official judging glass for spirits competitions and festivals all over the world.
As if there are not already enough reasons to experience ELA’ Blu Water Grille’s food and artistry, you now have one more.
ELA’S Blu Water Grille is located at One Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island. For reservations or more information, call (843) 785-3030, and/or visit ElasGrille.com.