June 2018

Rockfish Seafood & Steaks at Bomboras and the Art Café: Where All Roads Lead to the Lowcountry

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: John Brackett

Over the past nine months, a twisting, turning three-and-a-half-mile stretch of road up the side of a mountain has become one of Rocky Whitehead’s favorite drives. No stranger to life-changing road trips, Whitehead, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur, affectionately known as The Mayor, and Ginny his wife, began a family road trip from their hometown of Cincinnati 17 years ago, settled on Hilton Head Island, purchased a pottery painting studio, and then opened Bomboras Grille, now Rockfish Seafood & Steaks at Bomboras and the Art Café, their family businesses on Hilton Head Island.

Evacuating the Lowcountry in October 2016 when Hurricane Matthew took aim at Hilton Head Island, the Whiteheads rented a house in Asheville, where the entire family and all their pets decamped. That forced evacuation and five-hour road trip led to an unexpected love for the North Carolina mountains, which led to a search for property, which led to the purchase this past September of a family cabin three-and-a-half-miles up a mountainside near Lake Lure. During long weekends, getting to know their new home-away-from-home, the Whiteheads discovered the rich viticulture throughout the region, and as a board member for the Hilton Head Wine and Food Festival and restauranteur, the wheels of inspiration began to turn for Rocky.

“We knew the breweries up there were great, and the wineries are phenomenal,” Whitehead said. Hosting monthly wine pairing dinners, and bi-monthly beer pairings, he is now getting to know the vineyards and vintners in the Asheville area and is building connections. “Two years ago, I talked Veuve Clicquot into doing a champagne dinner. It took them two years to get here, but it was really nice. Our chef does a beautiful job with the pairings.”

In May, Parker-Binns Vineyard was on the pairings menu at Rockfish, along with outstanding North Carolina trout, prepared to perfection by Chef Joe Gilleland, all the result of Whitehead’s relationship-building in the Blue Ridge Mountains region. “They’re located very close to us up there; we went and got to know them right away. Their Cabernet Franc is phenomenal; that’s their best grape for that area. I got them to put three wines in the Food and Wine Festival, and they came back with a bronze and a silver medal. Now they have come in for one of our wine dinners, and they spoke to our guests. I’m trying to create a region, other than Napa, to feature different wines.”

TIP: If you haven’t seen the 2008 film Bottle Shock with Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, and the late Alan Rickman, now is the time … everything will sound a bit familiar.

As the Whiteheads are enjoying discovering what lies down each new road, they are finding all roads lead back to the Lowcountry, where the family’s businesses are thriving. Happy hour at Rockfish is an excellent way to get the flavor of this friendly place, and connect the beer, wine, and liquor selections with appetizers that will surely whet an appetite for Chef Gilleland’s expertly prepared seafood entrées. “Joe has been with us for about two years,” said Stacey Whitehead Romoser, general manager. “He has a lot of great ideas and he really knows how to cook fish. For our wine dinners, he’s very creative with the pairings.”

The Whitehead family.
Rocky, Ginny, Stacey, Storm, Breckin, Brittany, Halle, and Taylor

The Rockfish happy hour menu includes 75-cent oysters, 40-cent shrimp, 50-cent wings, chicken and fish tacos, flatbread pizza, soft pretzels, $4 Shadowbrook wine, $4.50 frozen drinks, $2 Bottoms Up beer (if you haven’t experienced this unique method of serving beer, check it out), $4 house liquor, and a nice selection of Sierra Nevada beers. Their dinner menu offers an exceptional selection of seafood and steaks, along with Montgomery Inn Ribs—a Cincinnati favorite.

The Cincinnati roots run deep at Rockfish. “We are a Bengals bar, big time,” Whitehead said. “We were approved by the Cincinnati Bengals to be on an official list of Bengals bars in cities that include Dubai, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Hilton Head Island. When the Bengals are playing, this place is packed.” The Whiteheads and Rockfish are also big supporters of the Kenny Anderson (former Bengal quarterback) Autism Foundation, along with several other local charities. If the Bengals aren’t playing, Rockfish offers live entertainment through the summer season.

The Art Café, located above the restaurant is the fantastically fun domain of Ginny Whitehead and daughter Brittany Scheriff, where pottery painting goes on throughout the day in their whimsical creative studio, and when evening comes, creates a nice connection with the restaurant. “They have Family Date Night, also known as Kids’ Night Out,” Whitehead said. “Guests can make reservations, and the kids go upstairs, where they have projects to paint and food. The parents come downstairs and have a quiet dinner knowing the kids have plenty of people watching them and working with them. It really is nice. The kids love it, and the parents can take a glass of wine upstairs after dinner and watch the children finish their projects. We encourage everyone to hang out for the evening. We want it to be comfortable for the families.”

The road to here has not always been smooth. “This is a very tough business,” Whitehead said. “We’ve done a lot of hard work. The kids are doing a great job with it. People come down every year, and the goal for us is to get on their list. We’re being successful with that; people come back every year now. We try to make it very family-friendly. All the kids [daughters Stacey and Brittany, and son Taylor], my wife and myself are here, talking to people as they come in, and that’s what we’re trying to make it about.” As a family, the Whiteheads have taken a few of the roads less-traveled. And who knows where the next turn will take them?

Rockfish Seafood & Steaks at Bomboras and the Art Café are located at 5 Lagoon Road, Hilton Head Island, where they have private parking for guests. For more information about Rockfish please call (843) 689-2662 (BOMB) or visit bomborasgrille.com; to inquire about the wine and beer pairing dinners, please find them on Facebook at rockfishatbomoras or email Staceybomborasgrille.com. For the Art Café, please call (843) 785-5525 or visit artcafehhi.com.

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