June 2008

Food + Fun = Aunt Chiladas

Author: Whitney Farmer | Photographer: John Brackett

Frustrated parents, rejoice. Many moms are only half joking when they say that dinner for their family of five means driving around to five different restaurants for pick-up. This child wants tacos, that one wants spaghetti, the baby is crying for chicken fingers, dad insists on steak and mom just wants everyone to sit down and stop being so fussy.

Amazingly, one place really can give everyone what they want. And the best place on the island for it to happen is Aunt Chilada’s Easy Street Café.

According to managing partner Brendon Reilley, that’s one of the big ideas behind the restaurant. Brendon is sensitive to a family’s needs, not only because he and wife Jill are parents of three children, all under five years old, but also because his family, as he says, “has been in the restaurant business since forever.”

Brendon’s uncle, David Reilley, opened Aunt Chilada’s in 1988 as an authentic Mexican restaurant. In the last 19 years, it has evolved past its one-track roots, now offering an all-encompassing menu featuring, of course, fine Mexican cuisine, but also just about any other type of fare imaginable. Since taking his position earlier this year, Brendon has worked to improve on the already-popular location.

“We’ve changed the menu,” Brendon said. “We improved upon recipes, put on some new items.”

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy and sure-to-be kid-favorite is the D.R. burrito, named after David’s son: spaghetti and meatballs rolled up in a flour tortilla and served burrito-style.

Aunt Chilada’s can truly be called a family restaurant. Not only do Brendon and his uncle own and run the restaurant, their wives help with the operations. It’s not the first time Brendon and his wife of five years, Jill, have worked together. Both Hilton Head Island natives, the couple went to culinary school together and opened a restaurant in Hawaii. After living on the other island for five and a half years, they moved back to Hilton Head to be with family. And due to his family’s varied and extensive restaurant experience, they knew exactly how to make the space inviting for everyone.

“It’s nice because we have the dining room for families,” Brendon said. “Then there’s the bar geared toward sports, with a little bit louder atmosphere.”

The adobe-style décor mixed with the large, open layout gives the dining room more of a faraway destination feel, while the sports banners and paraphernalia draped across the exposed beams of the bar ceiling are an entirely unique mixture of old fashioned Mexico-meets-pub.

Aunt Chilada’s is a family-run restaurant geared toward families. But, there’s also a community of golf patrons. The dichotomy of the quiet, separate dining room on one side and the large, open bar on the other means Aunt Chilada’s truly does have something for every speed.

And once family time is over and the kids have gone to bed, it’s the parents’ turn to indulge in a bar whose happy hour motto is “We pay you to drink.” Known by locals as one of the best happy hour spots on the island, each drink you buy from 4-7 p.m. earns Aunt Chilada dollars and half dollars that can be redeemed for, yep, more alcohol. There’s also a happy hour menu that offers more than the typical bar food. There are crab legs, shrimp, Mexican pizza and dollar tacos. Challenge your friends during the nightly trivia, or just relax and enjoy the game on any of the dozen televisions.

If you’re not really paying attention, you might miss the most unique artifact in the place. In the far corner of the bar area sits what looks like an unassuming machine found in every arcade in the country. It’s the same game that requires players to put in their pocket change and use a giant claw to grab the elusive stuffed toys inside. But, like everything else in the restaurant, this machine has a unique twist. Instead of the cute and cuddlies, inside are live lobsters. Patrons can put three dollars in the slot for the chance to grab a lobster. If you win, they cook it for you.

“The waiters are pretty good at it,” Jill laughed.

Brendon and Jill’s Hawaiian influence will soon make itself evident in what they call this summer’s Aloha Fridays. At the end of each week, join the grass-skirt and printed shirt clad staff to unwind from the week, luau-style, as Aunt Chilada’s promotes the beer of Kona Brewing Company based in, of course, Hawaii.

Whether you’re looking for a new twist on your old stand-by Mexican meal, a place to take the whole family, or a new watering hole to catch up with friends, the Reilley family has it all figured out. Located on Pope Avenue, the patio high-tops are the perfect spot for a quick bite while on a beach break, or a nice relaxing, whine-free family dinner. Call 843-785-7700 for daily lunch specials.

Dining with Kids
A war fought and won (well… sort-of)
By Elisabeth Reed

While Aunt Chiladas and many other local eateries may be family-friendly, as a parent it is always smart to come armed for battle when dining with your kids. Remember these helpful tips and soon you will master the art while still having a good time. (and maybe grabbing a bite or two for yourself as well!)

1. Ask to sit by the kitchen. Sure, for a romantic dinner for two, this corner of the restaurant may not be so nice; but for a family, a view of the kitchen could be the best seat in the house. First of all, the kids are interested in what is going on behind those swinging doors. They watch the wait staff come and go and get glimpses of the chef in the kitchen. While the tots enjoy dinner and a show, mom and dad just might be able to eat most of their meal or possibly have an adult conversation.

2. Rearrange your way of thinking. Try to think of dining out as a way of removing yourself from a messy home or a night void of cleaning up the dishes rather than the peaceful evenings of yesteryear. Dinners that include appetizers, long conversations, dessert and coffee also include a babysitter at home. If you are going to dinner as a family, plan on your visit being a short one. If you have dined at this restaurant before, think about what you want to order before you get there. Order your meals with your drink order and request your bill when your food arrives.

3. Select the right entrée: Try to order the cold food items on the menu. Sure, the grouper piccata over linguine sounds great, but will it taste as yummy cold? Choose an entrée that will still be good even after it has been sitting at your table for 15 minutes while you take your toddler outside the restaurant to point out trees and cars. Obviously, soup is not in your future (unless, of course, the soup de jour is gazpacho.)

4. Be prepared for the worst. As in all areas of parenting, it is always best to be prepared. This usually includes a U-Haul van and armloads of toys, books and snacks, but if your food takes long to come out, you will be thankful you came prepared.

5. Try to clean up after yourself. While this may seem a lot to ask, this is a good routine to begin with your kids. If the children are old enough, they can assist you picking up some of the fries and crayons that went overboard during the meal. While you don’t have to bus the entire table, besides being a helpful habit to teach your kids, a quick clean-up will go a long way if you want to return to this restaurant someday.

6. Order dessert (to go, please). While family dining can cramp your style and put a crimp in your restaurant experience, that is no reason to skip the best course: dessert. Remember, you can always order a slice of that double chocolate mousse cake to go. After baths and bedtime stories, this is the time for warrior parents to kick back, settle in and enjoy dessert. You deserve it!

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