December 2008

Love at First Bite

Author: linda hopkins | Photographer: john brackett

Just when Jim and Anna Buckingham thought they had their retirement plans in place, they found out that God had something else in mind. Some might call it a fluke. Anna calls it a miracle, and Jim agrees that Bistro 17 was “meant to be.” Following fate’s twisted path to Shelter Cove Harbour, as of January, 2007, the Buckinghams (former owners of Santa Fe Café) are back in the restaurant business and having a ball.

“I think it is my calling,” said Jim who, after 31 years serving some of the best Mexican and Southwestern food in the area, has discovered country French. “I have found the love of my life with the bistro type cuisine,” he said.

Apparently Jim isn’t the only one in love. Locals are flocking to the tiny waterfront café to enjoy a fresh new spin on island dining. With both indoor and outdoor seating, patrons are finding a unique blend of casual elegance, reminiscent of a Paris bistro. “There’s not another restaurant like it on the island,” said Jim, touting the combination of distinctive cuisine and magnificent setting.

It’s the kind of place where you can choose the experience you want. “You definitely get a different feel eating inside than outside,” explained Anna. Although the inside feels a bit more formal because of the wood floors, wine racks and white tablecloths, customers are encouraged to relax. “Whether you are in blue jeans or a tuxedo, you can be comfortable,” said Jim. And when there’s a nip in the air? Outdoor diners stay warm as toast under propane heaters.

Secrets to success
Finding their new niche may have seemed miraculous to the Buckinghams, but their rapid rise to success is no accident or surprise. This couple knows the formula, which includes hard work, dedication and, above all, passion.

It all started with a vision. Anna researched classic French bistros and came up with the basic concept. With a background in architecture, Jim designed and renovated the space to maximize efficiency and create just the right ambiance. “We wanted it to look like a European café with a major emphasis on wines,” said Jim. “With the beautiful view, you feel like you’re on the Riviera.”

While the atmosphere is magical and the view unmatched, it is the food that enchants. “With French cuisine, especially with bistro French, your horizon is so expanded,” said Jim, who shares his kitchen with executive chef, Chris Carge, who joined the staff in March.

According to the Buckinghams, Carge is the perfect fit for Bistro 17. “He’s so knowledgeable; he has great charisma and he’s passionate about food,” said Anna.

A self-taught chef, coming from a large, Italian/Sicilian family, Carge has been cooking since he was old enough to stir a pot in his grandma’s kitchen. Curiosity and creativity have served him well as he has made his way through the culinary ranks, gaining experience in a variety of cuisines. “The type of cuisine really doesn’t matter,” he said. The real secret? “Keep it simple and make it taste good!”

When it comes to bistro food, there are some key things, said Jim. “You have to have French onion soup, steak frites, beef bourguignon, escargot and a few other items. But with the rest, you can really express yourself. Chris loves that, and so do I.”

Popular menu items you won’t want to miss include peppered mustard salmon, sea bass, duck confit and the latest addition: chicken cordon bleu. Soak up some mussels in a tasty broth with crusty bread. Be sure to try the pomme frites (a fancy word for French fries). Perfectly seasoned, twice cooked and creatively presented in a spiral cone holder, they are a hot, crispy delight. And for a sweet ending, think crème brulee, homemade bread pudding, raspberry almond cake…

Bistro 17 may be small, but the restaurant truly has it all: imaginative cuisine, an extensive wine and reserve list, a cozy atmosphere and a priceless view. Two special menus, one for kids and one for canines, make way for the whole family. Service with a smile completes the picture and beckons you back again and again.

Lunch is served seven days a week from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. with dinner from 5-9 p.m. The restaurant does not close between lunch and dinner. “It’s a great place for a client meeting or if you just want to go somewhere for a glass of wine and baked brie at four in the afternoon,” said Anna, pointing out that it’s also perfect for a holiday gathering or special event.

Fall in love with Bistro 17. Stop by for lunch or make your reservations for dinner tonight. Ask how you can reserve the whole restaurant for your holiday wing ding, upcoming birthday party, anniversary celebration or family reunion. For more information, call (843) 785-5517. Get a sneak peek at the menu and look for valuable coupons at

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