September 2018

A Fresh Twist on History: There’s something new at Old Fort Pub

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Tradition can be a double-edged sword, particularly for a restaurant. On the one hand, a restaurant like Old Fort Pub thrives on its long tradition. Words like “venerable,” “iconic” and “institution” just seem to flow off the tongue naturally when describing a place that has defined luxurious dining on Hilton Head Island for 45 years. Built beside the foundations of, and drawing its name from, a Civil War-era fort, the restaurant itself has become a piece of history on an island where a restaurant’s life span is measured in months, not decades.

On the other hand, tradition can be the enemy of innovation. When you’re known for a certain menu, a certain technique, and have built a successful restaurant on it, that tradition can begin to erect subtle barricades around new ideas. Slowly but surely, it can choke out new ideas and a sense of invention, rendering traditions stagnant.

Old Fort Pub has never had that problem. For a venerable, iconic institution, it has always been made sure its most famed tradition is its ability to adapt to new tastes and opportunities. And if you need proof, try the steak.

“We’ve started up an amazing new beef program,” said Linh Craig, general manager. Old Fort Pub has completely refreshed how it looks at steaks, starting with a new source in the form of Meyer Natural Angus out of Montana and Colorado. Out in the wilds of the American west, the cows are free to graze wide open pastures. This not only creates a healthier steak, the naturally-growing rosemary and herbs that dot the grazing pastures add subtle flavoring notes to the meat.

But that’s just the beginning. Once the steaks arrive, the crew at Old Fort Pub begin an aging process that imbues each steak with mouth-watering flavor and tenderness. Starting from the original beef, Old Fort Pub steaks are cut, cryovaced and aged for 42 days on-site. What that means for you, the steak loving diners of Hilton Head Island, is that the bar has been raised for quality cuts and careful preparation.

It’s not like delicious steaks are a new addition to Old Fort Pub’s famed bill of fare. It’s just a good example of how there’s always room to improve on tradition. Just ask Chef Kynif Rogers. For four months, he’s been making his mark on the menu at Old Fort Pub, the latest chapter in a distinguished culinary career that includes stints at Le Bistro, Long Cove Club, Lucky Rooster and CQ’s.

Having come from sister restaurant CQ’s, Rogers was already familiar with the traditions of Old Fort Pub when he arrived. As such, he is determined to challenge them with all due reverence.

“There’s more pressure because there’s so much rich history at Old Fort Pub,” he said of stepping into his new role. “But that’s the exciting part about it. You go in there and you can’t half-step. Every small detail means something.”

Among the traditions he has committed to upholding are the Pub’s insistence on the freshest seafood. That’s partially due to its popularity, and also probably due to the fact that Craig and Executive Chef Broderick “Brodie” Weaver are both avid fishermen who fill the walk-ins at both CQ’s and Old Fort Pub with their daily catch.

“It’s straight dock to table,” Weaver said. “Linh will drop me off at Harbour Town, and we’ll divide up the catch between restaurants. I’m walking the cooler right up to our door.”

From there, Rogers is putting his own twist on preparation, quietly experimenting with new dishes and ingredients to stretch the bounds of tradition. One he’s particularly proud of is the shrimp and crab avocado sabayon (see recipe).

“Some people like a basic shrimp cocktail,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of a cocktail so I just wanted to try and switch it up. The sabayon sauce is a little bit sweeter, and the avocado twist to it goes well with seafood.”

It’s also not the only dish he’s proud of. Like a proud parent, he’ll list off the excellent qualities that make each dish his favorite, whether it’s the tuna tartare, short ribs, lamb shanks or even the croissants and Danishes that grace the brunch menu.

These are the dishes that have made Old Fort Pub the (say it with us) venerated iconic institution it is today after 45 years. Rogers recognizes the history of the restaurant that has been entrusted to his care. He not only wants to build on it, he gets as much of a thrill going into work every day as the diners stopping by for that special meal.

“This place is paradise,” he said. “The sunsets every night, the peaceful water… You can go out there and it all just comes together. It’s a great little spot.”

DIY Sabayon
Sabawhatnow? This thick, custard-like sauce makes for a delicately sweet accent that pairs with any number of savory seafood proteins. Chef Rogers prepares his with shrimp and crab, but you can easily omit the avocado and sub in nuts and berries to create a delicious dessert.

5 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise,
a sweet French dessert wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 Avocados

1. Prepare a large ice bath and set aside. Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches water. Set over medium heat and bring to simmer.
2. In a large stainless-steel bowl, whisk together egg yolks, salt, and sugar until very pale. Add Muscat; whisk to combine.
3. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until mixture has thickened and has tripled in volume, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove mixture from heat, and immediately transfer to ice bath. Whisk until chilled.
4. In a large chilled bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add lemon juice, add avocados, and fold the whipped cream into the chilled sabayon. Serve immediately.

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