A Touch of Class: Old Fort Pub continues tradition of excellence
Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
SEA ISLAND BOUILLABAISSE
Local Shrimp, Scallops, Crawfish, Mussels, Roasted Tomatoes, Tasso Ham, Collards
In most businesses, change is driven by a variety of factors including social trends, economic considerations and customer demands. As society in general has become more casual, so the local dining scene has relaxed over the years. But one restaurant has defied the shifting tide, standing the test of time with feet planted firmly in tradition. A tribute to a more graceful era, Old Fort Pub, established in 1973, is currently Hilton Head Island’s only AAA-rated Four Diamond restaurant and indisputably the area’s most elegant fine-dining establishment.
While a shirt and shoes will get you in the door, you may be inclined to “gussy up” a bit, as we say here in the South (at least comb your hair and change out of your beachwear), not because the management demands it, but because the surroundings call for a bit of decorum.
A memorable setting
Don’t be deceived by the name, which references the adjacent historic Civil War shore battery. If you’re expecting standard pub grub or a rowdy crowd, noshing mindlessly in front of a wall of plasma TVs, you are in for a bit of a shock. While you can certainly enjoy a casual evening in the bar area, when you crave pure relaxation and unadulterated pleasure, plan to fully immerse your senses in the dining experience.
Nestled among ancient moss-draped oaks, the iconic building, while designed as a restaurant, has the charm of an old Southern home, oozing with graciousness and hospitality. Tables dressed in crisp white linen, adorned with delicate china and fresh flowers, lend an air of sophistication rare in today’s casual resort setting. Pellucid windows, framed by soft swags, hint at formality while peering out over the marsh grass, flaunting expansive water views and bearing witness to nature’s finest artistry and most awe-inspiring sunsets.
Whether it’s a romantic dinner for two, vacation finale or family night out, there’s no bad seat in the house. Should you desire a cozier setting apart from the main dining room, you might request the Sunset room, an intimate upstairs retreat that affords more privacy and can be reserved for a group. For a breath of fresh air or a slightly more casual ambiance, dine on the outside patio. If you have a ring in your pocket and a proposal in mind, consider a pre-dinner adventure up the spiral staircase to the widow’s walk, where the scenic view is sure to inspire a “Yes!”
Assistant Manager Linh Craig, General Manager Joanne Machala and Executive Chef Keith Josefiak
Mighty fine food
While Old Fort Pub is bursting at the seams with atmosphere and a parade of external accoutrements, the culinary experience is the prize inside. Executive Chef Keith Josefiak, who has been heading up the kitchen for the past 10 years, prides himself on “food done right,” which, to him, means the freshest ingredients (many locally sourced), regionally inspired flavors and classic preparations. “I don’t try to follow trends. I play within them, and sometimes I think I’m ahead of them,” he said.
Menus change twice a year, with updates as well as nightly additions, based on what’s fresh and in-season. Out of town guests write home about the array of succulent seafood including she-crab soup, Sea Island bouillabaisse, wild Atlantic shrimp, East Coast halibut, and many more fruits de mer, while locals gloat over the bounty of our waters and the skillful preparation of such. Still others rave over the Black Angus filet mignon, house smoked prime pork loin, Joyce Farms chicken, Colorado lamb shank or pan roasted Muscovy duck breast. Whatever your palate demands, you can bank on Josefiak’s flair for balanced flavors and textures along with an artful presentation on every plate.
Expect no less at Sunday brunch. What general manager Joanne Machala says makes it so special is not only the impeccable service, but the broad range of delectable food that you simply can’t duplicate at home. Think classic eggs benedict, shrimp and grits with Tasso ham and baskets of Southern buttermilk biscuits & petite Danish, served with whipped sweet butter and preserves. (There’s even a burger and a BBQ pulled pork option for the more casual appetite.) And for a mere $26.95, you can enjoy the brunch package, which includes your selection of a starter, an entrée and either a mimosa, glass of house wine or juice.
Spectacular Sunset Dining
The crescendo comes early this time of year, with gorgeous sunsets over Skull Creek happening before 6PM
Special touches that count
Have you noticed how some restaurants have begun skimping on bread or water service? Old Fort Pub cuts no such corners.
Dinner begins with a delightful surprise (amuse-bouche or “mouth amuser”—a teaser from the chef). Professional servers are just that: professional—knowledgeable and well-versed, prepared to answer questions regarding the wine list, menu or any desired substitution or special request.
From start to finish, service is seamless and unobtrusive. Whether you need your drink refreshed, a replacement knife or your napkin re-folded, it happens so magically, you would swear tiny invisible elves were in attendance.
Just when you think all is said and done, after dessert, coffee and/or cordials, comes a parting gift of rich chocolate truffles, leaving a sweet taste in your mouth and, not surprisingly, a strong urge to return again and again.
Terms of endearment
The real key to any successful business is the enthusiasm of the people who make it happen. In the case of Old Fort Pub, there is a trickle-down effect all the way from the ownership and management to the service staff and behind-the-scenes crew.
“We have very little turnover as far as staffing goes,” Machala said. “Our employees have a certain pride in themselves and in the place.”
Josefiak is stoked by the opportunity to showcase his abilities in the restaurant as well as at area fundraisers that support community charities and non-profit organizations. But he is equally fired up about the skill set of his kitchen staff, most of whom have been with the restaurant five to seven years (“almost unheard of in the industry,” he said). Many started as dish washers and have worked their way up through all the stations, the chef explained. “You train them how to do it your way, and they don’t veer off. That’s why I think the product is quite consistent.”
“When you have that strong of a kitchen, you can always be proud of the product you’re putting down,” said Machala, who has been with the company 21 years and is quick to praise the support staff. Alongside Josefiak, sous chef Francis Bukta has been on board nine years. And then there is Jorge Rendon, who “came with the building and holds the place together,” Machala said. Currently working as kitchen manager/food runner, he is the last pair of eyes on the plate before it is presented to the guest.
In today’s fast-paced world of new-fangled gadgetry and constant change, Old Fort Pub is a familiar place to come home to for area residents and visitors alike. What ultimately makes this lovely restaurant both enduring and endearing is the set of values on which it is founded. Simply stated, it’s “technically correct food with technically correct service,” Josefiak said.
What’s not to love about that?
Old Fort Pub is located at 63 Skull Creek Dr. on Hilton Head Island, inside Hilton Head Plantation. Gate passes are available at both entrances to the plantation. The restaurant is open nightly from 5-9 p.m. (bar opens at 4 p.m.). Sunday brunch is served from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The restaurant will be serving from 5-9 p.m. Christmas Eve and from noon-7 p.m. Christmas Day. Children’s and young adult menus are always available. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (843) 681-2386 or visiting Open Table.com. For more information and a look at the menus, visit oldfortpub.com.