Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gluten Free in Hilton Head - 2015

My extended family has been taking yearly trips to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for almost 35 years.  After I was diagnosed with celiac disease seven years ago, I started my gluten free journey on our summer vacation to Hilton Head, where I had my first experience dining out gluten free at Bonefish Grill, which has a lot of great options on their gluten free menu.  

Because the villa we stay in at Marriott's Grande Ocean has a kitchen, we rarely eat breakfast or lunch at restaurants on the island, but I do like to go out to dinner every other day during our week stay.  

On the day we checked in, we had dinner at Marleys Island Grille, which labels gluten free dishes on their menu.  My extended family eats at Marleys every year, because they like the early bird menu and the food.  Marleys is part of the Serg Restaurant Group, which owns WiseGuys, One Hot Mama's, and Poseidon.  Two years ago, we dined at WiseGuys twice, and had really good meals, and One Hot Mama's, which we liked, but not enough to go back.  

I ordered the red chili rubbed bistro steak with chimichurri sauce, house vegetables, and butter whipped potatoes, which are hidden underneath my steak.  My husband ordered the same entree, and we both agreed that it was good, but not great.  My biggest issue with Marleys was the service.  Our server did not seem interested in getting the early bird menu for us, which we had to ask for twice, and she did not offer to bring me gluten free bread.  After the gluten-filled bread arrived, I had to ask about the gluten free bread, which I had read about online.  The gluten free roll I had was pretty good, and it was nice to have the option, which is rare outside of Disney World.  

On Monday, we dined at Ruan Thai Cuisine, which claimed to have a gluten free menu when we called, but we had to talk to three servers before I could find out what gluten free options they had.  I decided to stick with a curry dish, because they are usually naturally gluten free.  I ordered the Massaman Curry with potatoes, cashews, rice, and broccoli, which I asked for instead of the carrots that usually come with this dish.  Everyone in my extended family loved their meals at Ruan Thai, and I enjoyed my Massaman Curry, but I feel very uncomfortable dining at restaurants where they don't have a gluten free menu or a well trained staff.

On Tuesday, we had dessert at Rita's at Coligny Plaza.  The employee I spoke to looked at their allergen menu and told me that all of the flavors of custard and Italian ice they serve were gluten free, so I ordered a gelati with vanilla custard and peach Italian ice.  I don't love Italian ice or vanilla soft serve on their own, but the combination of the two is so delicious.  

On Wednesday, we had dinner at 5:00 at Ombra Cucina Rustica, so we could take advantage of their early dining menu.  My parents, and aunt and uncle, who vacation in Hilton Head twice a summer, love Ombra, and feel that it is one of the best restaurants on the island.  

For my antipasti course, I chose the insalata di barbabietole with marinated assorted beets, arugula, Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and aged Balsamico.  This salad is usually served with goat cheese, which I don't like, so they allowed me to chose Parmesan instead.  Beets are not my favorite vegetable, but I really enjoyed this salad.  

For my second course, I ordered the Schiacciata di Pollo al Mattone, which is herb encrusted half boneless chicken pounded thin, grilled under a brick, and served with roasted potatoes, spinach (substituted for the broccoli rabe), extra virgin olive oil, and fresh lemon.  This dish had so much potential, but I found everything to be underseasoned.  I added some Parmesan to my spinach for added flavor, and I rubbed my chicken in the aged Balsamico that my plate was garnished with.  My favorite part of the dish was the dark meat, because I found it to be more flavorful than the white meat, which was just a little bit dry.  

The highlight of my meal at Ombra was my dessert, a vanilla panna cotta served with berries, pineapple, and candied orange peel.  The panna cotta, which is an eggless vanilla custard, and fruit were delicious, but the star of the plate was the candied orange peel, which I need to figure out how to make at home.  

Ombra does not have a gluten free menu, but our server was incredibly knowledgeable about gluten free options, and there were plenty of dishes to choose from on the Tuscan early dining menu, which is just $26.99 for three courses.  They even have gluten free pasta if you would like to order the pasta dishes on the menu.  

On Thursday, my husband and I had lunch at Poseidon, which is located at Shelter Cove Towne Center.  We enjoyed dining on the porch, with its beautiful view of Broad Creek.

This restaurant, which was recommended by one of my blog readers, has gluten free options marked on their menu, including fried foods like calamari, fried green tomato caprese, clams, oysters, shrimp, sea scallops, Carolina classic catfish, and Atlantic cod.  There was no way I was passing up the chance to have fried clams, a childhood favorite, which I hadn't eaten since my celiac diagnosis.  I created my own platter with fried clam strips, domestic shrimp, and french fries.  I passed on the confetti slaw that is usually served with the platters, because it contained mayonnaise, which I try to avoid.  All of the fried dishes at Poseidon are made with a corn breading that is gluten free, and they are made in dedicated fryers.  My shrimp was a little bit fishy, but I loved my fried clams, and the french fries were good too.

For dessert, I had several options, including the berries & cream parfait, vanilla bean creme brulee minus the cookie, and the sea turtle ice cream sundae minus the housemade waffle bowl.  My husband and I split a sea turtle ice cream sundae, which had a light drizzle of chocolate and caramel sauce, hand-whipped cream, and a cherry on top of vanilla ice cream made at Marleys.  I loved everything about this dessert, including the cute little chocolate turtle it was served with.  My husband and I both agree that this was our favorite meal of the trip.

On Friday, while the rest of my family went to Bonefish, my husband and I dined at A Lowcountry Backyard.  We arrived at 4:30 when they opened for dinner, because they do not take reservations, and the wait can be long.  There was already a line of people waiting for the restaurant to open when we got there.

My husband and I both ordered lowcountry favorites that are marked gluten free on their menu.  I chose the shrimp & grits with pan sauteed shrimp and smoked sausage over applewood bacon cream sauce and creamy grits.  My husband ordered the Seafood Purloo with pan sauteed shrimp and smoked sausage over red rice, topped with the grilled or blackened fresh fish of the day, ranch sour cream, and sweet chili sauce.  My husband loved his entree, and I enjoyed mine as well, though I would have preferred it with just shrimp instead of the smoked sausage.  My husband's fish, which was a variety of local swordfish, was incredibly delicious, and had me wishing I had ordered his meal.  

When I visited A Lowcountry Backyard two years ago, I ordered the potato chip meatloaf, which uses potato chips instead of bread crumbs.  The meatloaf, which is made with ground pork and beef, is skillet grilled and brushed with moonshine BBQ sauce.  I remember enjoying it, but I wanted to try something different this year.  

I could have had banana pudding for dessert at A Lowcountry Backyard, but I couldn't pass up a visit to Marche de Macarons, which is located right across the parking lot.  All of the macarons at Marche de Macarons, which is based in Savannah, are gluten free.

I ordered three macarons - Georgia peach, blackberry lavender, and Mexican spice, which contained cinnamon and cayenne.  All three were very good, and I was a bit sad that I discovered this macaron shop the last night of the our trip, or I would have made multiple visits.

Before we left Hilton Head Island on Saturday morning, we had breakfast at Tide Me Over at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort.  We arrived right at 8:00 when they opened.

I ordered the Bounty Platter with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, gluten free Mickey waffles, and hash browns, which were really tater tots.  Bounty platters are usually served with a Mickey waffle and a biscuit, but I was given extra Mickey waffles instead of the biscuit.  My tater tots had to be baked instead of fried, so my meal took much longer to prepare than my family's bounty platters.  

Tide Me Over uses the Carbon brand gluten free waffle mix, which is made by the same company that makes the Mickey waffle irons.  Disney World uses Bob's Red Mill, Namaste, Cup4Cup, or a combination of Bob's and Namaste, depending on which restaurant you dine at.  I really enjoyed the taste of the waffles at Tide Me Over, and they were nice and light.  My only complaint is that I would have preferred them to be a little crispier, but overall, I thought they were very good.  I also enjoyed me eggs, bacon, sausage, and tater tots.  The Mickey waffles at Tide Me Over are free of all the top 8 food allergens except soy.

On our way home, we stopped at Grassroots Natural Market in Jacksonville, which is just about a mile off of Interstate 95.  We were there to buy Cappello's gluten free pasta, but ended up getting a few snacks for the road.  I chose two Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops, which are gluten and dairy free. The ginger plum was so delicious and refreshing, and I loved the bananas & grace too, which contains peanut butter, banana and honey.  I will definitely be trying to recreate this pop at home.

My kids were very sad that we didn't make it back to WiseGuys, their favorite restaurant from our trip two years ago, and I was disappointed that we didn't have a chance to dine at Sante Fe Cafe, a restaurant I used to love to go to before I was diagnosed with celiac.  One of my blog readers told me that she had a great meal there recently, and that they now have a gluten free menu.

Update - You can read my 2016 Hilton Head dining reviews here.

What are your favorite restaurants for gluten free dining on Hilton Head Island?  


  1. Ashley Dauson-WilesJune 4, 2016 at 7:54 AM

    We have never been to Hilton Head Island. I love planning vacation's to place's that I know we can find good gluten free options around town. I agree not all meals are eaten out when on vacation, but it's so nice to have a gluten free variety while on a new adventure. Plus who doesn't love a good Mickey waffle!! Thanks for sharing your adventures. Look's like I see a vacation there soon!

    1. You're welcome Ashley! We actually decided just yesterday to join our family in Hilton Head, so we are on our way right now. :-)