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A summertime drive to Pawleys Island is always a treat, especially if the destination is High Hammock in the tree-shaded, tin-roofed Hammock Shops. This latest offering from Charleston’s Maverick Southern Kitchens restaurant group delights visitors with its casual island spirit and the inspired cuisine of lauded chef Frank Lee, whose brilliant marriage of classical technique and fresh local harvest always brings delicious results. In this venture, chef Lee partnered with talented chef de cuisine Mark Ross to create a tempting menu that blends traditional favorites and daily specials, each celebrating the seasonal fare of area growers, purveyors, and artisans.
The locale is especially charming in summer as shoppers meander, visitors relax in rockers in the nearby gazebo, and diners enjoy bowls of signature shrimp and grits on the lively outdoor deck. The restaurant holds a time-tested place of honor in the shopping complex, yet thanks to its new owners, shines with renewal from a recent renovation. Inside, aged brick, gleaming white walls, and wood beams frame cheerful rooms, including a cozy dine-in bar area, a main dining room, and intimate porches. The spacious second story with veranda is used for hosting private events. Welcoming details such as fresh flowers, vibrant art, and sumptuous red leather chairs are found throughout.
Outdoor diners were in high spirits as we savored the irresistible aromas of the evening on a recent visit. We arrived just as surrounding shops were closing for the day and were fortunate to be seated in the Santee room, a delightful sunporch with a view of the courtyard and walking paths beyond. Giovanni, our gracious server, soon appeared with menus, sharing impeccable details of food and wine as well as general good humor that became a hallmark of the entire experience. On his recommendation, we decided to treat ourselves to the featured wine, Château Haut-Beauséjour Saint-Estèphe, and were immediately taken with its rich flavors of black cherry, cassis, and eucalyptus. After hearing about the evening’s specials, we struggled with decisions, having had the pleasure of sampling many of chef Lee’s creations other Maverick properties and finding all hard to resist.
On this visit, however, we ventured into unknown territory and ordered dishes we hadn’t tried before. The charcuterie plate featured an array of house-made items—a gorgeous feast of country pork pâté, pork rillettes, tender kielbasa, and silken duck liver mousse served with cornichons, bread-and-butter pickles, mustards, sweet pepper relish, and baby arugula dressed in a pleasantly sheer vinaigrette. It was a spectacular, perfectly seasoned collection and a beautiful tribute to the art of garde-manger. The Carolina quail meat was equally delicious, consisting of perfectly cooked breast served in a port wine reduction with white cheddar Timms Mill grits and baby butter beans.
After considerable deliberation, our entrées included the rack of lamb and duck breast, both pairing quite well with the excellent wine. The succulent lamb was served with cabernet-rosemary sauce, butter beans, grits, pearl onions, and more of the spicy red pepper relish, the tender orange-glazed duck breast and leg confit with an excellent goat cheese spinach flan and fresh asparagus. Though we tried, we couldn’t resist the sweet cornbread—hot, plentiful, and pleasantly served in sweetgrass baskets.
Brown sugar crème brûlée, mile-high banana cream pie with caramelized fruit, and exceptionally good coffee ended the evening on an excellent note. Our service was consistently immaculate, with many indications throughout the evening that Giovanni cared a great deal not only about the food and its integrity but also that the guests enjoyed themselves at all times. Generously guiding and suggesting with care and honesty, he and the entire staff were true ambassadors of Southern hospitality.
A rare blend of casual spirit and elegant flavor, High Hammock is a reward worth driving the distance in all seasons.
10880 Ocean Hwy. No. 21 at the Hammock Shops, Pawleys Island, (843) 979-0300, www.highhammock.com
Reservations are suggested.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5:30-11 p.m.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sunday brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Average dinner entrée: $26
Photograph by Christopher Brown