June 2017

ELA’S Blu Water Grille: Navigating Culinary Excellence

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Sitting at the entrance to Shelter Cove Harbour on Hilton Head Island, ELA’S Blu Water Grille is like a warm, twinkly lighthouse, inviting guests to lower their sails and settle in for an exceptional dining experience. Serving lunch six days a week, Sunday brunch, dinner seven nights, and hosting custom-created special occasions, there are ample opportunities to set a course across menus designed with creativity, diversity, and quality in mind.

“My inspiration for the new spring menu was the Lowcountry in general, and the island itself, more specifically,” said Doug Vernon, executive chef. “I wanted to elevate an already great menu to a celebration of the season. From the colorful and refreshing Crab Stack [jumbo lump crab, avocado, mango, cucumber, just so you know], to the light and healthy Kumato Caprese Salad, I wanted to see dishes that were both delicious and visually appealing.”

Vernon joined ELA’S (the first of two, soon to be three Nightingale family-owned restaurants) in late 2016, and has done what he set out to do: elevate an already stellar menu to new heights. “We looked for great, locally sourced proteins and combined them with fresh, colorful sides that complemented the main component’s flavor, such as the Black Sea Bass and its sweet buttery flavor combined with blistered tomatoes and fresh fennel, to a create a flavorful and colorful dish that has the added benefit of being incredibly healthy,” Vernon said.

Nestled as near to the sea as is architecturally possible, all manner of fish are the natural stars of the show. On a recent visit, the pan-seared diver scallops over crab risotto with truffle butter and crispy pancetta, placed a definitive check mark next to all things great about ELA’S carefully sourced seafood, and the considerate way in which Vernon brings together his proteins and their culinary accessories.

Visiting the table that evening, with a twinkle in his eye, Vernon also talked about their new beef supplier, Brasstown Beef at Ridgefield Farm in Brasstown, North Carolina. The ranch’s Braunvieh and Angus cattle are carefully bred and pasture raised, with no antibiotics or hormones. He said the exceptional quality and taste of their beef is the result of their careful monitoring of each animal, and a commitment to the farm-to-table aspect of their business that aligns well with ELA’S “By Land” offerings. “From the addition of the tomahawk pork chop to the alteration of our classic New York strip to the reworking of the charcuterie, we wanted to create instant classics that have the added benefit of being beautifully plated to the point of turning heads when they make their way through the dining room,” Vernon said.


Meghan and Thorsten Brockmann enjoy dinner with a view of Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina at ELA’S Blu Water Grille. With expansive water views, ELA’S is a popular place to watch fireworks on Tuesday nights in the summer.


VEGETARIAN RAVIOLI: White Wine and Butter Sauce, Walnut and Arugula Salad, & Kohlrabi-Kale Medley

“We touch on all the senses,” said Earl Nightingale, owner. “From the quality of the music, the view of the water, the smell, taste, and quality of the food…these are all blended together to create the best dining experience on Hilton Head Island.”

For the ELA’S team, in addition to making every visit exceptional and every meal delicious, holidays and special occasions are like stars by which they navigate through the year. Nightingale, and his children Erin Wasem, Lauren Mathis, and Alex Nightingale (the E-L-A of ELA’S), have created a relaxed, art-filled, and elegant space where guests are invited to reserve a table for an evening out or a waterside luncheon, or to schedule a celebration.

“Few places offer this amazing water view for special events,” Nightingale said of ELA’S panoramic across Shelter Cove Harbour and Broad Creek. The restaurant’s second floor, with seating for up to 60 guests, is a perfect venue for anniversaries, small weddings, birthday parties, family reunions, and more. Their third floor offers a private space with seating for up to 18 guests. Setting them apart, ELA’S culinary wizards offer their full menu for up to 20 people, and for larger parties, customized menus are planned. “We also custom print menus for each private event,” he said. “They will have the name and date of the event on the top.”

Skilled at hosting events up to 165 guests, ELA’S invites large corporate or private parties to reserve the entire restaurant, creating some deliciously memorable occasions. With their private rooms looking and feeling like the restaurant, whether it is a champagne reception, a post-wedding brunch, or cocktails and appetizers on their outdoor lawn, private events at ELA’S are about intimate, tailored experiences. “We have the flexibility to create special events with all different styles,” Nightingale said.

Thursdays through Sundays, ELA’S offers live entertainment, which provides a lovely backdrop not only for diners in the restaurant and on the patio, but a complimentary bonus for parties happening upstairs. Across the calendar, they are also known for their annual New Year’s Eve bash with a three-story balloon drop at midnight, along with exceptional Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day brunches.

Applying their successful formula, the Nightingales imagined their second restaurant endeavor, and The Pearl Kitchen & Bar opened in Bluffton in April of 2016, with Alex Nightingale at the helm. They are now looking forward to their third collaboration when Roadhouse opens this summer in Port Royal. Think, barbecue with a twist.


LOWCOUNTRY SHRIMP & GRITS: Local Stone Ground Grits with Aged Cheddar with Jumbo Shrimp Sauteed in Roasted Corn Salsa & Cajun Cream Sauce


ELA’S CRAB STACK:Jumbo Lump Crab, Avocado, Mango, Cucumber

“We are located right in the heart of the Lowcountry, where the best and brightest military personnel are recruited from the Southeast region of the United States,” Earl Nightingale said. “We wanted to showcase a variety of barbecue products that touch on those cultures: South Carolina’s mustard base, Texas’s sweet style, Tennessee’s famous dry rub, etc., and put them all in one place where they and their families can feel at home. Roadhouse will also be a place to showcase our home, with Lowcountry boils, pits for oyster roasts, and spits for pig roasting.”

As the sun sets over Broad Creek, and the lights of the harbor come up, ELA’S Blu Water Grille begins to sparkle in the glow of its spectacular setting, under warm, twinkly lights, creating a welcoming ambiance at the entrance to Shelter Cove Harbour—nowhere better to lower your sails and settle in for a very special dining experience. 
ELA’S Blu Water Grille is located at One Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island. Reservations are recommended, and because parking is limited, the ELA’S team recommends arriving by Uber or taxi on the Fourth of July and on Tuesday evenings (Shelter Cove’s weekly party and fireworks) throughout the summer season. For more information or to make reservations, please call (843) 785-3030, or visit elasgrille.com.

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