Chef Charlie Sternburgh could be the poster child for enthusiasm and determination.
Years ago, Chef Sternburgh was working in an area restaurant. The head chef left the job unexpectedly before opening night. Without any formal culinary training, Chef Sternburgh courageously walked into the kitchen and set up shop.
What he brought to the table was a love for cooking. His father, a butcher, and his grandmother instilled this love in him. He honed his skills and developed a following. He decided to open The May River Grill.
The May River Grill opened in 2007, transforming what was once a gas station into a cozy, uncluttered and inviting room with an open kitchen. The tables are far enough apart that you couldn’t straighten a fellow diner’s napkin even if you felt the need to do so.
The real estate mantra “location, location, location” is not lost here. Streets lined with enormous trees, dripping with Spanish moss and history, adorn the historic town of Bluffton, with its galleries, antique shops, historic homes and churches. The downtown section sits on a high bluff overlooking the pristine May River. Picturesque is an understatement. Majestic comes closer to describing the view.
A walk around Boundary and Calhoun streets, and all the tiny side streets inbetween, is a good way to work up an appetite for Chef Sternburgh’s menu. The fresh seafood offerings are many: Shrimp aglioe olio (garlic and olive oil), crispy oysters with horseradish cream, seafood curry, and seafood-stuffed salmon. The restaurant’s oyster supplier is the Bluffton Oyster Company, which has been shucking oysters for nearly a century. The classic dishes we are all a little hesitant to admit we enjoy are not forgotten on the menu. The veal Marsala, crispy duck and sautéed calf’s liver have a safe haven here.
Quality service is another reason the regular clients return time after time.
“They appreciate having a rapport with the same wait staff person they had on their previous visit,” Chef Sternburgh says. “Teamwork is key.” Friendly, attentive and knowledgeable seem like essential attributes in a wait staff, yet many restaurants don’t seem to meet the criteria.
The favorite dessert at May River Grill is chocolate mousse in an oatmeal crunch basket. All the desserts are made from scratch daily, and I’m happy the mousse is presented in a basket, which makes it easier to take home an extra one!
CARRIE B. HIRSCH of Hilton Head has broad experience in the culinary arts. Carrie wrote this article for South Carolina Living Magazine, October 2009.
SHRIMP AGLIO E OLIO
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic, finely minced
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
5 basil leaves, julienned
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup water
In a small bowl, combine to create:
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon paprika
In a large skillet, heat olive oil (not extra virgin as it can be too sharp) and minced garlic. Sauté on medium-high heat until garlic begins to brown. Add shrimp and sauté one minute. Add tomatoes, basil, chicken broth, water, then sprinkle with seasoned salt; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Divide portions equally between four small bowls. Serve with crusty bread for dipping. To create ample portions to serve as a main course, double this recipe, then serve over angel hair pasta. Serves 4 as an appetizer.
Each serving provides 382.5 calories, 24.5 grams protein, 5.2 grams carbohydrate, 29.5 grams fat, 172.4 milligrams cholesterol, 1.4 grams fiber, 1.7 grams sugar, 583 milligrams sodium.