Charlie’s L’etoile Verte: A ‘Star’ Among Hilton Head Island Restaurants
Author: Kent Thune | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
If you are looking for the best in fresh local seafood combined with an award-winning selection of fine wines, all served with a charming French twist, look no further than Charlie’s L’etoile Verte. In 1982, Charlie Golson
started with a one-room restaurant on Hilton Head Island, based on the cuisine of a small French café he frequented while living in Paris. That place was called “L’etoile Verte,” which means “the green star,” and would become an inspiration for his Lowcountry restaurant.
“I would eat at L’etoile Verte in Paris a few times per week because they had excellent food at a reasonable price,” Golson said. He would bring that elegant cuisine and simple fare to Hilton Head Island, where it caught on with locals and tourists alike. In 2001, the restaurant moved to a new spacious location with a full bar and an enchanting French country atmosphere.
But the real beginnings of Charlie’s L’etoile Verte on Hilton Head Island go all the way back to Golson’s childhood. Growing up in nearby Savannah, Georgia, he learned early about the Lowcountry’s wealth of local ingredients. As a young boy, he would spend the weekends crabbing, shrimping and fishing on the Okatie River. He would later become a student at the University of South Carolina, where he pursued a degree in French studies. His interest in the French language and culture took him to Paris in the early 1970’s. That was when Golson soaked up the Parisian lifestyle, while frequenting bistros and cafés including L’etoile Verte, and he attended some cooking classes.
Golson returned home, finished college and moved to the Greenville area where he held several positions as a chef. For a brief time, after encouragement from friends he had made in France, he served as a member of the Peace Corps in Senegal, Africa.
Upon returning to the States two years later, Golson and his soon-to-be wife Nancy decided to move close to family. Golson landed a job at the Hilton Head Inn, which was the only hotel on Hilton Head Island at the time. When the opportunity presented itself to buy the local established French restaurant, Le Bon Vivant, Charlie and Nancy were ready for their own business. That would be the beginning of Charlie’s L’etoile Verte, which would become, and remain, a family owned restaurant.
Today, Golson’s children help carry on the restaurant’s family tradition and are integral parts of its operation and success. His son Palmer spends much of his time ordering and butchering fish. He calls up to seven different purveyors throughout the Lowcountry every week, searching for quality seafood. Palmer’s diligent work is sure to produce at least a dozen fresh daily menu seafood items, most of which are grilled.
Local sauteéd Shrimp Scampi served over South Carolina Tomato Grit Cakes.
Some of those seafood items finding a place on the menu include tilapia, flounder, salmon, Carolina trout, swordfish, mahi-mahi, sea scallops, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and triggerfish. Palmer also works to include meats, such as filet mignon, duck, and lamb, for entrée options each evening.
Because of the Golsons’ dedication to serve only the best of fresh seafood available, and to ensure quality, they have taken pride in being one of the few restaurants on Hilton Head Island that creates their own menu and specials on a daily basis.
Golson’s daughter Margaret, who now has a family of her own, helps with the management duties and with making in-house desserts with Dad. She is also a certified sommelier under the Court of Master Sommeliers. The restaurant’s award-winning wine selection is a reflection of her knowledge and passion for fine wines.
The extensive wine list is among the few in South Carolina to be awarded the Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence, with concentration on California Cabernet, Oregon Pinot Noir, Bordeaux, and the Rhone Valley.
Margaret also helps to ensure a high level of service to guests. “Four different people will typically touch each table for every dining experience,” she said. This teamwork environment creates an extended family that goes beyond the Golsons. “We’re old school. We pool tips together and tell the staff, ‘This is your business,’ which brings the service to our guests to a higher level.”
In the kitchen, Golson has the pleasure of working with Chef Lloyd Alberson, who hails from Alabama. Before coming to Hilton Head Island with his wife and children in April 2013, he worked on St. Simons Island, Georgia with the Halyards Restaurant group.
So after discovering for yourself all of these ingredients that make up today’s Charlie’s L’etoile Verte, you might not call it a French restaurant. “When people ask me to describe it, I often say it’s a fish restaurant,” Golson said.
But you can also call it a place to find great wine, a place to eat lunch, or a place to enjoy a memorable evening while the Golsons and their extended family of staff ensure that you have a wonderful dining experience.
Charlie’s L’etoile Verte is located on Hilton Head Island at 8 New Orleans Road. For information or reservations, call (843) 785-9277 or visit online at charliesgreenstar.com.