Mediterranean Harbour Bar & Grill
Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Photography by Anne
It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday in July. A gentle wind freshens the air, and tables begin to fill at Mediterranean Harbour Bar & Grill. Word is already out among the locals, and tourists are in for an exotic surprise. Hilton Head Island’s only Lebanese restaurant is now serving authentic cuisine of the tiny Mediterranean coastal country in one of the most beautiful settings on Hilton Head Island: Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina.
According to owner Simon Mikhael, the menu focuses on fresh ingredients and natural flavors, and the Lebanese executive chef Munjid Yousif, takes pride in running a “scratch” kitchen. All of the Lebanese dishes are made daily, in house, including the stuffed grape leaves, which many restaurants are known to buy in bulk from a can or jar.
The food is prepared to order, expertly seasoned with olive oil along with hints of garlic, basil, parsley, lemon and other herbs and spices, blended together into a complex medley of sensory seduction. “It’s not spicy or heavy, but clean and green,” Mikhael said of the flavor profile, inviting me to come in for a tasting. (See “What’s Cooking” on page 101)
The Restaurant next to the new La Fontana, has been completely transformed, inside and out, including the addition of an outside bar, new flooring and furnishings as well as a brand spanking new kitchen. Mikhael, a 10-year Hilton Head Island resident, who was born in Bahrain and grew up in Lebanon, said he set out to create “a classy, clean environment where guests can sit down and enjoy delicious food.”
The ambiance is simple and elegant but at the same time, relaxed. It’s the kind of place where you can show up in your shorts and sandals or dressed for date night. No one cares if you drop your napkin or use the wrong fork. In fact, by the time you leave, you are likely to feel like part of the family.
If you wish to dine al fresco, catch the breeze on the outdoor patio, which features table service as well as a full bar, serving cocktails, wine, beer and homemade lemonade. Prefer air conditioning? Make yourself at home inside or cozy up to the indoor bar.
Unfamiliar with the food? Just ask! Servers are happy to answer your questions, and the chef will honor any special requests. Vegan and gluten-free options are available as well as an “all American” selection for kids.
Step out of the ordinary and into a new world of deliciousness at Mediterranean Harbour Bar & Grill, conveniently located mid-island at 13 Harbourside Lane, Unit B., serving lunch and dinner daily. The restaurant is in the corridor across from the amphitheater where Shannon Tanner performs nightly during the summer. Bring the family and enjoy a great meal, then venture around the corner for a gorgeous view and some lively entertainment.
When my husband and I arrive on Saturday evening, patrons are gathering, both inside and out. I recognize a friend at the adjacent table—another sign that word of the unique dining experience is spreading fast among locals.
First things first. We order two different wines by the glass to share and compare as well as a glass of Chateau Heritage Blanc de Blanc, a lively white blend from the Bekaa Valley region of Lebanon. As we are soon to discover, all of our selections pair well with the food.
Dinner begins with an assortment of appetizers including sambosik, kibbeh and falafel, each morsel oozing with flavor, not drowning in sauce. Tahini sauce is served on the side for dipping—light and delicious, complementing the fresh herbs and spices expertly melded into each flavorful dish. The warm Lebanese bread—a thin two-layer flat bread that is soft and pliable—ideal for spreading with the hummus and baba ghanouj and sturdy enough for filling with a variety of savory meats.
Next, we enjoy a taste of two salads: fattoush, with its light, lemony dressing and tabouleh, a lettuce-free virtual herb garden in a bowl. We move on to a kabob combo, which includes both tender lamb and prime beef, grilled with vegetables and served over rice. Finally, we savor the chicken shawarma (beef is available as well), slow roasted and marinated, lightly seasoned and divinely tender.
Baklava, a traditional Lebanese treat made in house and sweetened with orange blossom water, is a perfect finish—not too heavy or too sweet. (Other dessert choices include ice cream, cheesecake and key lime pie.) In spite of the many items we sampled, we are pleasantly satisfied, not overly-stuffed. The entire experience is an unexpected pleasure and a delightful change of pace and taste. We will be back for more and hope to see you there.
*Meet The Chef**
According to Munjid Yousif, executive chef at Mediterranean Harbour Bar & Grill, it was destiny (with a little help from Craig’s List) that brought his talents together with Simon Mikhael’s vision for a new restaurant on Hilton Head Island. Yousif’s interest in cooking started behind his mother’s skirt and ultimately landed him at the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts in London.
After graduation, Yousif, who once dreamed of being a pilot, was employed as a sky chef for Kuwait Airways. He went on to work for Sheraton in Kuwait before making a seven year stop in Montreal, where he helped establish a popular Lebanese-style restaurant franchise. He gained further experience in U.S. restaurants and country clubs, primarily in Charlotte and on Hilton Head Island. He was living and working in Miami when afforded the opportunity to return to the Lowcountry to prepare the food of his culture.
“I am passionate about Lebanese food. It’s not complicated. It’s all up here,” Yousif said, pointing to his head. He doesn’t need a recipe. While he has all of the necessary culinary skills and 23 years of experience in upscale restaurants and resorts all over the world, “cooking this way comes naturally,” he said. “It’s like making an everyday cup of coffee.”
For more information, visit mediterraneanharbour.com
or call (843) 842-9991 for a reservation or takeout.