Harrell: An exemplary restaurant world in Bluffton – The Augusta Chronicle

Harrell: An exemplary restaurant world in Bluffton  The Augusta Chronicle

There was a time when you couldn’t get so much as a hot dog in Bluffton, unless you count the summer that a small concrete block building down at Alljoy beach …

There was a time when you couldn’t get so much as a hot dog in Bluffton, unless you count the summer that a small concrete block building down at Alljoy beach became a casual eating place.

You were never quite sure when they would be open. Of course, I suspect they didn’t know, either. They sold hot dogs and hamburgers on paper plates, chips but no fries. There were soft drinks, no alcohol and a shiny jukebox with blinking lights. You weren’t allowed to dance.

Something about a permit. It was very popular. Not because it was wonderful, but because there wasn’t anything else in 20 miles. The Fiddler, it was called, not to be mistaken for the other Fiddler Restaurant that opened in 1958, supposedly by Charles Fraser. That Fiddler was next to the Lemon Island Marina and specialized in seafood.

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My children loved to go there because when the tide came in so did the fiddler crabs. All over the floor. My little ghouls loved to stomp on ’em to hear the crunch. Actually, the children weren’t the only ones to stomp. Grownups would be deep in conversation while their feet wreaked havoc under the table.

These days, if you are looking for somewhere to eat in Bluffton, you are spoilt for choice.

From classic French cuisine to Hispanic to Italian, Greek, German, Asian and good, old-fashioned home cooking, we have it. Even Vietnamese and Thai. It boggles the mind.

The absolute saddest thing is to see a favorite restaurant close its doors. Not for lack of custom. No. Sometimes, it is simply that its time has run out for whatever reason and a new establishment takes over.

The Upper Crust, a fancy pizza parlor, morphed into the Fig and Olive. You might say it went from mozzarella to feta.

Over by Moss Creek Plantation, chef Mehdi Varedi with his beautiful wife Corrina opened Cattails, which became Claude and Uli’s, and on their retirement this salute to French cuisine is now chef Pascal Vignau’s Savory Cafe.

Chef Claude was at the Seacrest back in the early 1980s when that was the place to go for lunch and you knew everybody and if you could squeeze your way through the room you visited from table to table. He spent some time at the Gaslight, where chef Serge Prat reigned and our son Andrew worked as a server specializing in “how to keep children happy while mom and dad enjoy their meal and a glass or two of wine.”

Then there was the affable Faisal, who welcomed us at his Le Bistro. His chefs could put a smile on the face of the pickiest eater in town. When demolition of his shopping center location was announced, Faisal simply said OK, he would retire and go home to visit his mother in Morocco.

These fabulous restaurants are no more.

Abe’s is gone. So is the Golden Rose, which wasn’t exactly a restaurant, but if you were a card-carrying member you could dance the night away sipping an alcoholic beverage long after the curfew. Yvonne Goolagong’s down at Coligny had the best free 5 o’clock hors d’oeuvres. The Crow’s Nest wasn’t far behind.

We are so lucky the concept of owner-chef took root in Bluffton.

Yes, we have corporate restaurants, the Golden Corral, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel and on and on. But really, if the owner is cooking in the kitchen and his partner is involved at the other end of the house, everyone wins.

The other day I called to make reservations at Sigler’s, a favorite of our family since chef Mike Sigler and his bride Shirley opened the door of this rotisserie-based restaurant in 1996. Chef Mike and chef Todd Elliot have been sending out meals ever since with its signature sail-shaped cracker gracing the plate. You know that you can always count on excellent food and service.

In fact, Darrell Jenkins had won the Bluffton Today award for Best Server in 2017. Shirley covers the front of the house and makes sure everyone is happy happy. For years, it was not unexpected to see the Sigler boys with aprons on working side by side with their dad. At the open kitchen you could sit at the chef’s counter, be comfortable and watch every bit of your meal being prepared. It works, it’s fun and it was family.

So you can understand how surprised I was to have a stranger greeting us Saturday night. She had a big smile and seated the three of us with me restraining myself from asking “who you?”

We hadn’t sat down good before Shirley appeared and said, “We closed yesterday.”

I knew the restaurant was open for offers, but it was still a shock to learn it had been sold. I blurted out, “Are you happy about it?” and she smiled. “Oh yes,” she said. “We are so ready to retire.”

That explained all. The stranger at the front desk was Candy Alessi, one of the new owners.

Shirley introduced us and we visited in spurts between customers. She explained that she and her husband chef Tony and sister Mary Dostal would be on site to run the restaurant.

No strangers to the business, they bring not only expertise in the kitchen and in management, but they will continue that undefinable ingredient, family participation and all that it means. Shirley, chef Mike and Darrell were there to make sure any possible glitches during the transition would be avoided. The food was delish as always and Hannah our server spoiled us with attention.

There can be no doubt this new family will fit right into the exemplary restaurant world in Bluffton.

We have come a long way from hot dogs at the Fiddler. But Sigler’s, one and all, we’ll miss you.

Annelore Harrell lives in Bluffton and can be reached at anneloreh@aol.com.