A Conversation with George Davis, Chef of the Ocean Grille
Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: John Brackett
When Virginian chef George Davis was a kid, he spent many summers at the family home on Chesapeake Bay where he enjoyed “tons of fresh fish.” Now he gets to serve it up at Ocean Grille at Shelter Cove. Located at the mouth of Shelter Cove Marina, the restaurant has views of the boat traffic coming in and out of the harbor from Broad Creek. In addition to local fresh shrimp throughout the season, local professional fishermen bring the day’s catch to Shelter Cove, which promises the freshest of fresh seafood. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Chef Davis says. CH2 got a chance to talk with Davis about the restaurant, plus its new offering: Sunday brunch.
CH2: Sunday brunch on Hilton Head has become something of an island tradition at several restaurants. Why now at Ocean Grille?
DAVIS: The space is so beautiful. Considering all the traffic going through Shelter Cove, with the local, small tours that go out of here, fishing and kayaking, we thought we’d capture that in the spring and summer time. It’s just a beautiful setting for brunch.
CH2: What is one of the features of your Sunday brunch that might set it apart?
DAVIS: When we started the buffet in March, we wanted it to be something that’s light and fun. You’re surrounded by the harbor, the boats, all that activity. We wanted it to be comfortable for someone who was going on a kayak tour wearing shorts and flip flops and feel just as comfortable for somebody getting out of church. And, of course, there’s the view—the boats coming in and out of the harbor.
CH2: Any surprises on the menu?
*DAVIS: We have a varied menu. The grilled fresh salmon Caesar is a favorite. If you’re not into the traditional brunch, we’ve got shrimp and oyster “po boys” on a hoagie roll. We have access to some local, gorgeous Carolina shrimp. From May through the end of fall, we serve fresh local shrimp. Of course we have traditional brunch items, too. There are four different types of eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, pancakes, steak and eggs. We have a whole omelet section where you can basically create your own. We have homemade granola. It’s all natural, no sugar, just honey. All natural oats, pecans, dried blueberries. We wanted to have a little bit of everything for everybody’s taste.
CH2: Ocean Grille has gained a reputation for fresh seafood. Do you buy locally?
DAVIS: Absolutely. We get it daily. Some of the fishermen will be up there at the opening of the restaurant. They’ll have their fish right here. We’ve got a captain in Shelter Cove who’s bringing us some gorgeous mahi-mahi and cobia. People can absolutely tell the different between a frozen product and something that’s delivered right to our door, a high quality fresh fish. We have a South Carolina wholesale license that allows us to buy fish from the docks. Whatever they’re pulling up goes on our menu. That’s just a great opportunity for us, we’re right here. Captain Pete (Durbano), he’s fantastic. He’ll filet his catch for us on the spot. We can literally get it out of the water that day and have it on the plate that night.
CH2: While your customers come for the waterfront view, what would you say is another big draw to Ocean Grille?
DAVIS: I think it’s two things now. We really have been trying to work as a team, as far and the “front of the house” and the “back of the house” goes. We’ve got a great director of operations who oversees both Antonio’s (a Lowrey Group restaurant) and Ocean Grille. He’s been working extensively with the wait staff. We also have a great general manager; he’s got tons of experience in five star properties. We’ve really been striving for excellent food and excellent service. I have an incredible staff in my kitchen. We want the service, the food and the view all to match, to balance. It’s a group effort, a team effort. I’m really proud of the whole staff. They are doing an amazing job.