Photos: Michael Hrizuk
By Kim Kerr-Dearsley
Contributor Kim Kerr-Dearsley pays a visit to the delectable Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar to sample one of Hilton Head's top dining experiences. Her verdict? It's good... very good.
Hilton Head Island has become a foodie’s delight for me. Whatever your palate, you can be sure to find it here on this wonderful corner of South Carolina thanks to the many excellent dining establishments that have set up shop to cater to the vast numbers of tourists who flock here every year – some two million of them, in fact.
Whether you’re a visitor to the island or a local on the lookout for good, wholesome, Southern-inspired food, you can find no-end of amazing culinary delights to enjoy here, from the simple to the extraordinary. One place that successfully combines both the simple and the extraordinary is The Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar, an American bistro serving up delectable cocktails, an extensive wine list, and fantastic Southern food. It’s the place to go for those who prefer every aspect of their meals to be made from scratch.
And that goes for the cocktail menu, too, as I found out after ordering a G&T and was informed that even the tonic here is made in house. So, too, are the simple syrups and mixers used in their delicious cocktails. I chose a gin that’s distilled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, but which clearly embodies the spirit of the Lowcountry – Bulrush Gin. Bulrush utilizes a unique distillation process using maceration and vapor infusion of 10 different herbs and botanicals. It’s so good, in fact, that my dining partner also chose it for his (incredible) Moscow Mule. I love to sample interesting gins from other regions, and this one was a real hit.
It’s All About the Experience at the Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar
While reviewing the menu, we had the amazing good fortune of meeting the restaurant’s chef and owner, Clayton Rollison. A native of Hilton Head, great service and hospitality are in his blood: his father ran a BBQ restaurant, and his uncle was a managing partner in a major restaurant group. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Clayton received further experience and training in kitchens around the country. After a spell at the acclaimed Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, he was recruited to head the kitchen at Merchants Restaurant in the same city to rave reviews.
But the island life beckoned, and Clayton and his wife returned to Hilton Head to open their dream restaurant. It all came together in December 2013, since when he and his team have honed and perfected a stellar menu of refined comfort foods and adventurous eats that incorporate the best of the region’s produce.
When he’s not behind the bar or in the kitchen, you’ll find Clayton chatting with his customers, ensuring everything is just right.
“It’s all about the food experience,” Clayton says with a big smile when I ask what sets The Lucky Rooster apart. “I want people to leave not just having had great food, but also a great time. For me, it’s all about sharing a love of good food, of time spent with friends and family.
“A great restaurant meal should be a community experience. And if it’s done right, you won’t forget it. It becomes an experience that’s always memorable. That’s what I want to create, lasting memories around the food we serve.”
It’s very apparent that Clayton is very passionate about what he does, and his larger than life personality certainly shines through as – at our prompting – he talks about the restaurant’s early days. Now, five years in, his restaurant is busier than ever, and it’s clear that his persistence, passion, and attention to detail has served him well… something you can tell from the many locals who continue to support him.
As our evening unfolded, and as we watched the staff interact with their guests – and sampled one of the best meals we’ve experienced in Lowcountry – it was abundantly clear Clayton meant every word he said about the importance of the experience for each and every one of his guests.
An American Bistro… With a Whole Lot of Southern Soul
With assistance from both Clayton and our very helpful server, Melissa, we started our culinary adventure with a number of superb sharing plates – plus a few surprises – to kick things off (and, of course having taken Clayton’s advice regarding the fun of sharing food!). First up? Fried green tomatoes, a southern staple done to perfection with a delicious breaded coating, pimento cheese, sweet and spicy pepper jam, and chow chow pickled relish. This was swiftly followed by a remarkably tasty take on octopus: octopus a la plancha. Cooked three times and served with chickpeas, piquillo peppers, olive, and capers, the octopus was very tender and quite unlike any I’d eaten before, with a texture more akin to sausage (and yes, we ate it all!).
We weren’t done yet, though. Next up was an incredible foie gras duck pate with pistachios, grainy mustard, and toast, and a sweet pepper jelly. Arriving at the same time was a special in-house roasted garlic soup, served with a soft poached egg on top which we mixed in to add a little thickness. My, it was good… and easy to see why Clayton adds this to the menu when the longer, colder evenings arrive.
And the surprise? Clayton was justifiably proud of the skillet of fresh crab legs that arrived (unannounced, but more than welcome!). Caught fresh that day and simply having to be eaten (who were we to argue), these herb rubbed local crab leg clusters were marinated in habanero, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and lemon and cooked over an open flame in the Gullah style that’s unique to Hilton Head Island… and for which we were grateful to have been introduced to as they were bursting with a symphony of flavours. In fact, they were that good that we didn’t mind for a minute when, afterwards, we were delivered not one but three hot towels each to tidy up. But boy, was it worth it!
Large Plates and Desserts
Despite having already experienced numerous incredible flavours, our dining adventure continued with our entrées, or large plates. Not wanting to leave out one of the best loved Southern staples we of course ordered the restaurant’s wonderful grits. Made from coarse ground corn, we agreed these were some of the best grits we’ve ever had, very creamy, and with just a hint of sweetness.
My main course was the catch of the day, a blackened North Carolina catfish served with oyster, shrimp, red rice, andouille sausage, and a delicious red roux. Simply divine. My partner had the beef ragu, served on a bed of buttery baked sweet potato with a red reduction sauce. The verdict? “Wow” was pretty much all I got as he tucked in eagerly, not letting up until it was gone.
To end our superb evening, we ordered one of each of the three desserts on offer to share between the two of us, simply because they sounded decadent and indulgent. These were:
- Banana cheesecake served with (real!) fresh whipped cream
- A decadent (and very large, definitely made for sharing) chocolate brownie baked in a skillet served with chopped fresh hazelnuts and house made hazelnut ice cream
- Apple cake served with a Captain Crunch (yes! the cereal!) homemade ice cream
These were accompanied by a locally roasted coffee, French pressed to perfection. Oh, and dessert cocktails (or ‘liquid dessert'), including a delicious Darjeeling 1888 Punch made with a chai tea and using a unique milk clarification technique. These, along with our desserts, were pure indulgence but, we agreed, well worth the extra mile or two we’d have to run on the beach the next day.
While we never did get around to asking Clayton why (or how?) exactly the rooster they’re named after got lucky, we’re certainly thrilled to have been able to add this to the top of our fast growing list of authentic Southern food experiences.
Final Word: The Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar is a great place to eat great food made with the freshest, locally sourced ingredients, whether pulled from local water or grown on local farms. From our plentiful starter sharing plates to our mains, every bite was simply amazing, as was the presentation and service. Keeping it simple, flavourful, and fresh.
Contributor Kim Kerr-Dearsley is a frequent visitor to Hilton Head Island... and a lover of good food.