January 2015

The Bluffton Room- The Lost Art of Dining

Author: LAURA JACOBI | Photographer: PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANNE

The Bluffton Room might seem like an understated name for a high-quality, fine-dining restaurant in Old Town Bluffton. But partners Margie Backaus and Jimmy Soules wouldn’t have it any other way.

According to Backaus, the two created every aspect of the restaurant to reflect a lively, but intimate dinner party—from the simple and delicious American cuisine to the coziness of the dining room’s 14 tables. The restaurant seats 48 guests in the dining room and up to 18 at the bar. And Soules was quick to point out the name is The Bluffton “Room” not The Bluffton Restaurant. It opened in late August of 2014 and has been very well-received in its first few months.

Soules has worked in the restaurant business for 36 years, specializing in higher-end steakhouses. His most recent position was beverage and food manager at the W Retreat & Spa in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Backaus has lived in Bluffton for the past six years, but spent her career all around the world, working in marketing as well as operational and organizational support for various industries. Together, they believed they could create a dining experience where the client was always top priority.

Going to The Bluffton Room is about having a total dining experience, not merely eating dinner. Guests come in and can sit at the bar, pick a table or choose one of the curved, retro-style booths, which tends to bring them closer together as everyone slides in and over.
“We wanted it to feel like a dinner party at someone’s home, where guests are welcomed in, offered a glass of wine or cocktail and served with great respect and attention to detail,” Backaus said. The two envisioned this to be a place for people to catch up with old friends or make new ones as they get lost in conversation.

“When you walk in, you don’t see people on their cell phones simply waiting on the next course to finish their meals,” Soules said. “Our guests are eating, talking and fully engaged with one another.”

Soules said lunch is the time to schedule a business meeting or get a quick bite to eat. “But dinner is for dining, which is why we’re only open for dinner.”


Chef Avery Early

According to Backaus, the regulars come in two to three times a week, because the atmosphere is so inviting and comfortable, the service is top notch and the food is like nowhere else in the Lowcountry.

The Bluffton Room’s chef, Avery Early, has been around the (butcher) block a time or two and is proud to admit he knows his stuff when it comes to the kitchen. Early began his career with the Marriott on Hilton Head Island in the early 1980s. During his 12-plus years with the Marriott Corporation., he learned everything about the restaurant business. He also assisted Marriott with the opening of 15 or 16 other kitchens around the world.
“They [(Marriott] created me,” Early said.


Partners in the Bluffton Room, James Soules Margie Backaus

Because of this diverse background, Early says it’s hard to pinpoint his cooking style, so he just calls it “versatile.” He says he can cook just about anything, but thoroughly enjoys creating the American steakhouse-style menu items for The Bluffton Room. He enjoys crafting the great steaks, but he also loves the Roasted Lemon Chicken and the White on White chicken dish that features a French-cut organic chicken breast with an ivory sauce, artisan greens and a seasonal vegetable. Other tasty menu options include Lobster Macaroni & Cheese and The Trilogy, which is their best prime cuts, served for three or more and hand-carved tableside.

Soules describes the food at The Bluffton Room as “approachable, but high-end in flavor.”
“I don’t beat the competition,” Early said. “I create it (for other restaurants).”

According to Early, their customers are well-traveled, so he must offer them the freshest, most authentic and most flavorful menu options possible, because they’ve tried it all in nearly every corner of the world. From a culinary point of view, he believes in using fresh, simple ingredients to create delicious and flavorful foods that keep guests coming back again and again.

“It’s about taste and consistency,” Soules said. “That steak must taste just as mouth-watering the second, third or fourth visit as it did the very first time the guest tried it.”

According to Backaus, it is Early’s high expectations that make the food so enjoyable. He expects the best from the suppliers, the ingredients and flavor combinations and the staff, because he has such pride in the food and service they provide.

The kitchen staff aren’t the only ones who must give their best each night. The servers at The Bluffton Room may appear to be more formal than other Lowcountry restaurants in their dress and their mannerisms. That’s because the service has to support the vision for the restaurant, the owners said. Soules and Backaus have very high expectations when it comes to the level of customer service they provide in their dining room, because it’s all about the dining experience—enjoying the food and the company.

“Live Well, Be Grateful” is the line engraved on a plaque on the outside of the restaurant. “That’s the cornerstone of how we treat our staff and our community,” Backaus said. “No matter how successful we were the night before, we have to earn it every night.”

The Bluffton Room is located at 15 Promenade St., on Old Town Bluffton’s Calhoun Street Promenade and is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m. Reservations are required for parties of six or more, and calling ahead is suggested regardless of the size of your party. For more information, visit theblufftonroom.com or call (843) 757-3525 for reservations.

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