Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte: Hilton Head Island Culinary Icon
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
Marking their thirty-fourth year on Hilton Head Island, Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte may surely claim iconic status. Cooking for and serving guests five days and six nights a week comes instinctively to their team, built solidly on the footings laid by founder Charlie Golson; where American grill meets French bistro, and where son Palmer Golson and daughter Margaret Pearman complement and work alongside their father and a company of bona fide, skilled culinary professionals.
For 34 years, the menu has been hand-written daily. That is no small feat in a business where ingredients, consistency and price often dictate an establishment’s ability to succeed and endure, and where repetitiveness is often rewarded. What that hand-written menu means for patrons is thoughtfully crafted offerings of appetizers, entrées and desserts based on the most seasonal ingredients, along with an appreciated selection of their classic dishes.
Palmer Golson manages the kitchen and orders most of the fish that are so superbly highlighted on their menu. Pearman says that her brother’s broad knowledge base and appreciation for responsible hunting and fishing gives Charlie’s the opportunity to source and prepare the freshest fish in the most creative ways. “My brother orders all the fish and does most of the cutting to make sure it’s consistent. That’s a huge job if you have 14 different fish on the menu—keeping it all fresh.”
Joining Charlies in 2013, head chef Lloyd Alberson is at the helm in the kitchen, where Pearman says he does an excellent job bringing together plates that reflect a world view. With preparations like Thai curry peanut sauce, chile pumpkin seed butter, wild mushroom sauce and basil pecan pesto to accompany their fish, along with raspberry demi-glace paired with duck breast, or a Boursin herbes crème with their filet mignon, the flavors are always deeply delicious and often surprising. “The wild mushroom sauce came from our old restaurant,” Pearman said. “Chef Alberson changed it up a bit. He uses shitake, portabella and button mushrooms. Then he takes a dried wild mushroom blend and grinds it to really infuse that umami flavor.”
Bartender Jeff Mix has established himself as the maestro of Charlie’s comfy bar, where he conducts the atmosphere and the energy, along with serving some excellent wines and outstanding cocktails. Offering both a special bar menu, including chicken crepes and Cobb salad from their lunch menu, a sirloin burger and a fresh fish salad, along with the option of ordering from their daily menu, Charlie’s bar has become a great place to be any night of the week. “People are eating out way more than they used to,” Pearman said. “It’s normal for them to eat out three or four times a week.” With half-off bottles of wine (those priced under $100) in the restaurant and the bar on Mondays, she said that’s their busiest night.
the french-chic lounge
As Charlie’s Certified Sommelier under the Court of Master Sommeliers, Pearman appreciates the enthusiasm for their wine offerings, and recently made a change to how the list is put together to make it even more enticing. “Instead of listing the wines by varietal, I am doing it by flavor profile. That gives me a little more flexibility in what we are offering. For me, the most important thing about a wine list is that it is user-friendly and that people can find something.”
Taking a baby step away from running the show six days a week, Charlie Golson continues to put his signature on much of what comes from the kitchen. “He does a lot of the same things that he has always done,” Pearman said. “For example, he makes the bread pudding and the pâté. He comes up with special creations now and then, and he does desserts.”
Pearman confesses to a bit of a sweet tooth, and her desserts are well-loved by the restaurant’s guests. The creative nature of cooking can instigate some debate in the Charlie’s kitchen as to just how best to put a dish together. Fortunately, no matter the outcome, everything comes out heavenly. “I always have one image in my head and then maybe my dad will come in and do what I was going to do, but do it in a completely different way,” she said. “This week, for instance, I was excited to make a banana pudding—a really good banana pudding. I prepared the custard one day and it was delicious. I let it sit in the fridge and I came in the next day to put it together. My dad had already put it together, instead of with vanilla wafers like I was going to do it, but with lady fingers dipped in rum. That happens quite a bit, where my dad or my brother do something completely different from what I think it was going to be. It came out delicious.”
Chef Llyod Alberson
It is the culinary debates and decisions that drive the tastes and creativity on Charlie’s daily menu. Butter vs. olive oil? “Butter,” Pearman said. “We’re French here. It adds so much flavor to everything, and it’s delicious with wine.” Pâté vs. escargot? “For me, pâté; I just love pâté.” Crab salad vs. crab cake? “I would definitely take crab cake. He [Chef Alberson] is going to put some black-eyed peas and creamed corn with it; it’s going to get real Southern.” Coming down on either side, guests will find the outcomes sublime.
With the food as the star (shall we say green star in Charlie’s case), the team assembled to elevate the dining experience is selected primarily by Pearman. “We want to have the right people in the right place,” she said. “Being a family business, we try to strike a balance for everyone.” That includes benefits such as two-week-out schedules so her team can plan their lives outside of work and paid vacation time. Recently, Pearman promoted two long-time bussers to wait staff positions. She likes that Charlie’s is a family restaurant in many respects; not just her immediate family, but their employees who become part of the family, stay a long while and may even build long-term careers.
Marking 34 years does not automatically make you an icon. Being one of the finest in your business decidedly does. Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte is most certainly a Hilton Head Island culinary icon.
Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte is located at 8 New Orleans Road, Hilton Head Island. They are open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; for dinner Monday-Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to close; the bar is open Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-close. For more information or to make reservations, please call (843) 785-9277, or visit charliesgreenstar.com.