Sunday, January 30, 2011

Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe

Before kids, Eric and I used to love to discover breakfast locales in Seattle. We were less successful after our move to the Twin Cities but we are still always on the hunt for a great breakfast spot. On the rare vacations without the children along we feel like we have struck gold when we find a perfect match, a third place in our home away from home. We found such a place this past week in Hilton Head.

I must say I was dubious when we drove up to the mall location with unremarkable architecture and no view. We walked inside and were happy to see a bustling business on a weekday morning during the off season in a resort town. The decor was cozy, cheerful and funky, displaying the personality of real people rather than the sanitized version of theme decor so typical of chain restaurant design. I always appreciate the expression of personality in a restaurant because it feels more intimate. Similarly, when you are invited to someone's kitchen for an informal breakfast, you become a member of the family, not just a guest. To take this mood one step further we sat up and the bar seating next to the cooks and servers, in on the action, without having to do the work.

Eric commenced on the crossword puzzle and I read the front page of USA today as we waited for our menus. Check out for their full spread of options. I love a nice simple one page laminated menu, who needs 5 pages of choices, especially for breakfast. We were off to a good start. Our waitress came over to fill our classic coffee mugs and take our order. When I ordered the Sunrise, an eggs benedict concoction with avocado, red onion and tomato; the waitress politely asked if I was a vegetarian. When I replied with a no, she smiled and gestured delightfully befitting a food network cooking show host and demonstrated how I should add some bacon to the mix for the perfect combination. I ordered a side of fruit instead of grits or some other option and she nodded approvingly and added that the fruit cleansed the palette after the rich hollandaise sauce. Our coffee was delicious and was promptly refilled. The cooks and staff behind the counter were clearly enjoying themselves. Some were singing along with the 70's music on the radio, others were joking and sharpening knives, they were having fun with one another and their customers. When Mary Ellen our waitress, delivered my Sunrise, she glowed and announced "it's a thing of beauty isn't it?" I agreed, eager to dive in. Meanwhile Eric was giving his grits the taste test and waiting for the appropriate moment to ask for a taste of mine. We lingered for awhile contented and well cared for until our exit when our waitress was the model of southern hospitality and made sure to say goodbye and thanks for coming.

Sure enough, the next day we were back and I ordered the Sunrise again and was equally satisfied. Mary Ellen looked pleased to see us. Her enthusiasm for the food was contagious and I recommended that she start a cooking show. Eric asked if she was the owner, she said no and gave us the name of the owners. On day three I opted for the stuffed french toast which was good but a bit too sweet for me. I would have preferred a quarter sized portion along side some eggs and meat. To return three times was a high compliment since we are unlikely to be back in Hilton Head anytime soon. There were plenty of other breakfast places to try out, but our experience was so comfortable and we knew we were in for a good time, so Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe became our Third Place for a few days. When on vacation it is nice to introduce something that feels familiar to "try on" what it might be like to be a local someplace else. If you are ever in the neighborhood give Sunrise a try and ask for Mary Ellen.