July 2007

Boathouse II: Where Food Meets the Family for Fun!

Author: Paul deVere

Picture this. The captain of a local charter boat comes striding through the dining room and heads straight to the kitchen, carrying a freshly-caught 50-pound cobia. Restaurant guests, whether locals or island visitors, do a double take as tomorrow’s dinner passes by. While this doesn’t happen every day, “We like to let everybody see what the menu addition will be,” said Mark Gaylord, the manager at Boathouse II. “Quality doesn’t get any better than that.”

Boathouse II actually does have a wholesale license to buy seafood from charter captains and gets a call from them quite often. Boathouse will also prepare fishermens’ catch and just charge them a “plate fee” when they eat in the restaurant.

Celebrating its 20th birthday, Boathouse II has become a Hilton Head Island icon, a local and visitor favorite. Located on Skull Creek just outside the back entrance to Hilton Head Plantation, it has grown into the kind of restaurant that meets everyone’s expectations of what a restaurant on an island, on the water, should be. Then it gets better. You might call it “restaurant plus.”

Before checking out the “plus,” a bit of history is in order. The restaurant was originally developed by Doc Schilling and son Bill as part of the Schilling Boathouse, at the time the largest dry dock boat storage facility on Hilton Head. They named the restaurant Boathouse Grill and the bar was called the “Drunken Dolphin.”

“But Doc Shilling put the kibosh on that right away. He didn’t think it was a good idea to call anything ‘drunken,’” Gaylord explained. The bar was rechristened “Marker 13” after the Intracoastal Waterway marker that sits right offshore from the restaurant. The name stuck.

However, when The Lowrey Group purchased the restaurant from the Schillings 11 years ago, it was time for a restaurant name change. “We thought about it and decided to follow the old superstition about bad luck when you rename a boat. That’s why it’s Boathouse II,” said Pierce Lowrey, founder of The Lowrey Group. “We know we did the right thing, but still have people ask where they can find Boathouse I.”

Now for the meaning of that “plus.” The most obvious is the view. Because Skull Creek is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, restaurant guests get an eyeful of the boat traffic that ply these waters: barges, ferries, large pleasure craft heading up north in the spring or down to Florida in the fall and shrimp boats coming in after an early morning run. In the distance, across the creek, is the tranquil Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge.

Then there is the entertainment, which comes in several forms. In the summer, manatee can often be seen at neighboring Schilling Boathouse, where these giant sea mammals come to drink the fresh water pouring off the dock when boats are lifted out of the water and rinsed off. Then there is the boathouse itself, as large forklifts carry boats from dry dock and “splash” them into the creek.
Another plus is that boaters, who would like to drop in for lunch or dinner, can put in at Schilling’s dock for no fee. However, Gaylord suggests a call to Schillings (843-682-2628) on busy weekends.

In the evening, dinner guests seated on the large, waterfront deck are treated to live music that ranges from blues and folk to popular classics, seven nights a week. Above the stage is a life-size pirate, complete with crow’s nest—a reminder of the type of sailors who sailed Skull Creek in the 18th Century. Kids love him.

There is, of course, the sunset over Skull Creek, a most captivating, quiet natural drama that also happens, weather permitting, seven nights a week.

(Note: For those who believe outdoor dining along the Carolina coast on a summer evening is an invitation to every “no-see-um,” mosquito, and other small pest within a 50-mile radius to dine on every inch of exposed skin, Boathouse II has you covered. An environmentally-friendly misting system that wraps around the entire perimeter of the property puffs a spray of rosemary oil three times a day, creating a natural barrier.
According to Gaylord, “It doesn’t kill the insects, just lets them know they are not wanted.”)

As for the menu … “Crispy scored flounder is definitely a signature dish, along with our broiled and fried seafood platter,” said Executive Chef, Mike Cowan. Shrimp and grits is also a favorite, a truly Southern dish that is becoming a mainstay in many seafood restaurants. “At first, people from up North question the grits part. They’re thinking of instant grits that are more like library paste. But our grits are coarse, stone ground, milled up in Belvedere, Tennessee. Once they try it, they’re hooked,” Gaylord said. Guests are also partial to the restaurant’s sweet potato fries, another Southern comfort food.

Managers Ron Mildh, Mark Gaylord, Chef Michael Cowan & owner Pierce Lowrey

“Our menu is really extensive. You could have a different entrée every day of the week and have another week’s worth left over,” said Gaylord. The restaurant is also “kid-friendly” with a menu to match.

One final “plus” is the Boathouse II atmosphere. It is fast-paced, high-energy and a “local” hangout all year long. Happy hour, between 4 and 7 p.m. draws a crowd, and the musicians build a good local following. In cooler weather, the action—and food—move inside to a generous bar and tables throughout an enclosed porch that offers that breathtaking view.

“It’s kind of Cheers atmosphere,” said Gaylord. “We do get to know everybody’s name.”

Boathouse II
397 Squire Pope Road
(843) 363.3663

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