I first visited Georgia’s Golden Isles (St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea Island) decades ago, and the siren’s call of the velvety marshes keeps calling me back. When an invitation comes to be part of a group sampling the new farm-to-table menu created by Chef Jason Brumfiel at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort on St. Simons Island I jump at the chance.
My spacious cabana room in the historic section at the stately Mediterranean style hotel (www.kingandprince.com) affords a fabulous view of the ocean. I can simply open the doors for a walk on the two-and-a half miles of hard-packed sand outside my door, take a dip in the ocean or hotel pool or just relax on my private patio. The only ocean front hotel on islands, The King and Prince is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America and named to the National Register of Historic Places. But Southerners who return year after year don’t need the accolades to enjoy the ambience and activities on the island.
Each meal created by Chef Brumfiel is a gastronomical experience. He has a new take on Southern culinary traditions with options for guests who are vegetarian or vegan. He’s also gone to great lengths to source the meat, fish and vegetables locally. My favorites include the shrimp and grits entrée and Frogmore Stew – both prepared with assistance from members of the group.
Every evening we gather for cocktails at the King and Prince and sample new drinks like the refreshing Due West, a combination of rye whiskey, fresh mint, club soda and St. Germain liqueur and Whipped Sunset, an eye-catching concoction of pineapple juice, vodka and vodka infused whipped cream. Served outside, we welcome a St. Simons sunset, enjoy new-found friends and listen to the rhythmic sounds of the surf. What more could anyone ask for?
One morning we tear ourselves away from Chef Brumfiel’s fare for a sumptuous breakfast at Tim and Melissa Wellford’s Sandcastle Café and Grill (http://sandcastleatthepier.com) that just celebrated its 25th anniversary. The country-style buffet features special casseroles and breads prepared on the premises by owners Tim and Melissa Wellford. Located steps away from the famous St. Simons pier and lighthouse, the Sandcastle is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
Craving barbeque, we head for Southern Soul Barbeque (www.southernsoulbbq.com) where pulled pork, ribs, smoked turkey and chicken and all the “fixins” take center stage. We sit outside on picnic benches and soak up the barbecue and good conversation. The casual appearance of the diner belies its fame, because the friendly restaurant has been featured on the Food Network and in multiple magazines.
Exploring the Island
Choosing a favorite experience on the islands is a bit like naming my “favorite” child. But a morning aboard “The Lady Jane,” a shrimp boat-turned excursion ship docked in nearby Brunswick is hard to beat.
Marine biologist Phillip Flournoy deftly reels in the trawling net and picks up the most interesting creature in the catch – a plate-sized horseshoe crab with a long pointed tail.
The species, considered living fossils, date back 450 million years. Once freed from Flournoy’s grasp, the intrepid crab makes a beeline for the sea alongside a tiny crab that uses runoff water to propel itself. As Flournoy tosses small flounders to the hungry flock of seagulls trailing the boat, we chant, “Go crabs, go.”
He chides us a bit saying, “Every creature is fulfilling its destiny as food for a larger creature.”
No trip to St. Simons is complete without a tour aboard Cap Fendig’s Lighthouse Trolley (www.lighthousetrolleys.com) that highlights places of interest on the island. Serene Christ Church built in 1884 had been visited by Presidents Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Constructed from heart pine lumber, it remains an active congregation with multiple services on Sundays to accommodate members and guests in the tiny 140-seat chapel. The oldest graves date back to 1796, each with a tale to tell.
At the Glynn Arts Association (www.glynnart.org) that showcases local artists and offers drop-in classes, we make sand castings that turn out surprisingly well. Other drop-in classes in oils, acrylics, pastels, pottery and more are offered weekly for adults, with special classes for children.
Another day we climb on gulf carts and tour the King and Prince Golf Club (aka The Hampton Club) that is open to the public. The par 72, 18 hole course is PGA-approved and 11 PGA golf pros live on the islands – more than any other place in the U.S.
Situated amid the bucolic marshes where eagles, deer, osprey and ‘gator are frequently spotted, the club must be one of the most beautiful in the country. Because of the care the islands take to preserve the eco-system, biodegradable balls are preferred and have even been approved for tournaments.
The lunch special features beef from Bob and Susan Woodall’s Fort Creek Farms (www.fortcreekfarm.com) located between Macon and Augusta. The couple left the corporate world to raise grass-fed Hereford cattle when Susan inherited the only intact antebellum plantation of its size still in private hands. “Natural hormone-free feed is good for animals and humans alike, because the meat is high in good fat, low in bad,” she says. It’s also delicious!
With full stomachs and memories of sand and sea, we say our goodbyes, vowing to return to the King and Prince again soon. From November until February, the hotel will “polish its crown” with lobby and restaurant makeovers. In the meantime special programs and rates will definitely lure me back. The sooner, the better.