Finding Oysters (and other good stuff) at the Beach on Hilton Head Island

Winter on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is low key. Its wide-open beaches and fewer people. It means oysters are in season and we can still get fresh shrimp.  Last year, J and I experimented with poached oysters dotted with caviar and wisps of pickled cucumber.  It was decadent and delicious.  This year, to save J’s hands and manage to eat before midnight AND be able to enjoy more oysters with family, we stuck to roasting them on the grill to dip in cocktail sauce, a gingery cilantro sauce, and melted butter. Sauces that also shared nicely with a large bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp.

And then there was that blind baguette taste-off, which completed the night’s vibrant meal.  (Some of the family had pre-determined favorites, but it was a tie – really – because each chewy baguette had its own strength – from a hint of butter in one to a perfectly browned crust in the other. See the culpable bakeries below.) 

Sharing table space with the shrimp and oysters were bottles (carted down I-95 in the car with Russ & Daughters‘ smoked salmon, pickled lox, and a chocolate babka for good measure), of sparkling smoky na Punta extra brut and an exceptionally dry Argyle Extended Tirage Brut sipped from unassuming (maybe mismatched and unbreakable?) house wine glasses.  We could bring them down to the beach for a sunset in soft shades of pink, behind the oyster shell-decorated “tree” that shows up every year at Christmas.  Or during a pitch-black night, to see the moon, like J, with his camera, tripod, and headlamp.

Besides the beach at sunset, get to these places on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, SC, to make the most out of Winter  –  

  • Bluffton Oyster Company, for bushels of local oysters.  Be sure to call and place an order ahead of time during the holidays.
  • Benny Hudson Seafood, another favorite for shrimp and fish like grouper and black drum.
  • The butcher at Scotts Market, for your meat needs.  I’ve had a sirloin roast and bavette (one of my favorite cuts).
  • Hilton Head Social Bakery, for the perfectly crusty and chewy baguette.
  • Twisted European Bakery, for the perfectly golden and slightly buttery baguette.
  • New York City Pizza, where the take-out veggie pizza is piled high with mushrooms, green peppers and onions, and they’re open late-ish if you hit traffic and arrive on the island after dark.
  • Fish Camp on Broad Creek, to sit at the heated outside bar twinkling in strings of soft white lights, eating ahi tuna nachos and calamari with crunchy/spicy fried pickles, a Westover One-Claw and a glass of malbec, listening to the guy in the corner playing guitar.
Fish Camp on Broad Creek…Summer view from the outdoor bar

Get This Wine…Sparkling na Punta

 

Le Vigne Bioin the town of La Morra in the Piedmont region of Italy showcases wines from winemakers using biodynamic and organic processes.  The wine bar’s temporary, raised outdoor patio (reminiscent of a small music stage) was across the street and abutting the face of the La Morra town hall, which is just about to the top of the hill where the via San Martino meets the Parrocchia di San Martino.  The wines by the glass, including several sparkling options, were written in chalk on a blackboard leaning against the town hall wall.  Several small tables and chairs were arranged and two sets occupied by a visiting German family on this cool late afternoon in early September.  It was a perfect time for J and I to sit down for an aperitivo on our first day in La Morra.

Eyeing the sparkling, I went with the na Punta (2012) an Extra Brut produced by Franco Conterno, based in Monforte d’Alba just across the hills.  What a find!  The pale gold color of the na Punta delivered a dry smoky taste that was so unexpected from a sparkling.  Made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grape (the grape of this, the Piedmont region of Italy), na Punta had a heft I hadn’t tasted before in a sparkling.  I sipped mine while nibbling on a selection of salumi, the aperitivo food complement to our glasses of wine.

I was wracking my brain trying to think of ways to carry back some na Punta despite only traveling with small, international-size carry-on bags.  Was the na Punta worth investing in a large hard-sided suitcase?  Would we be crazy to pay more outrageous shipping fees to the US and buy a case to be shipped from Le Vigne Bio’s friendly owner, Severino Oberto?  In the end, sensibility won out, but we took a photo of the bottle just in case we might find it back home.  We didn’t.  Franco Conterno distributes some of their wines, but not the sparkling na Punta, in the US.  J surprised me, though, and for Christmas, he ordered a half case from the winery and we enjoyed na Punta on a twinkling Christmas Eve on Hilton Head Island.  Most appropriately, with elegant Poached Oysters, light and tangy with Pickled Cucumber and Caviar.