She is Louisiana French and Lowcountry Fine
February 2023 Issue
by Elizabeth Skenes Millen Photography by Lindsay Gifford
The north end of Hilton Head Island has cause to celebrate. A new, local, fine dining establishment has planted itself firmly in the neighborhood and whisked open its welcoming doors. Owner and seasoned restauranteur Earl Nightingale purchased the old, boarded-up Outback Steakhouse building and renovated it into something extra special, with no remnants of blooming onions anywhere to be found. Meet Celeste; she is the beautiful, friendly and delicious new restaurant everyone is flocking to. North end residents are ecstatic to have such a quality restaurant that doesn’t require a trek down the Cross Island Expressway. But there is much more to be ecstatic about Celeste than that.
Let’s talk about what makes a restaurant a favorite—one that is tightly snuggled into your familiar restaurant rut—because these are the reasons you will adore Celeste and welcome her to your short list.
Celeste Coastal Cuisine exudes an atmosphere that just feels good—like you can stay a while, not feeling hurried or anxious for the check. From dark, heavy, wooden and worn, to light, airy, coastal, and cozy, it’s easy to feel at home at Celeste. And why wouldn’t you? Celeste’s namesake was Earl’s mother-in-law, Celeste Legnon Williams. She was a wife and mother of 10 (one of which is earl’s wife of 42 years, Dianne) who raised her family in New Orleans on hearty Cajun standards. Celeste Coastal Cuisine is a nod to her love of food and family. Diners delight in the French cajun influence found flirting amongst menu favorites, which puts Celeste in a niche of its own—the only fine-dining restaurant in the Lowcountry serving East Coast classic cuisine—think scallops, fresh catches, lobster, steak—prepared with a nibble of N’awlins. It is only natural that the family would take what they know and make good on it.
And let’s talk about how good! We started our tasting journey with the Mini Blue Crab Claws—the kind you don’t have to crack yourself—praise! All you do is pick ‘em up and slide ‘em through your front teeth. But first, they have to take a deep delicious dip into the drawn herb butter bath and roasted jalapeño sauce. They are small but mighty, bursting with fresh, sweet crab meat, and savory seasonings—the perfect addition of flavor. Also from the appetizer menu, you will want to try the Crispy Haricot Verts that boast flavors and textures of teriyaki, ginger and toasted cashews. Between the appetizer, soup (Yes, Classic New Orleans Gumbo is on the menu every day!) and salad offerings, there are more than 20 dishes from which to choose. This is perfect for those seeking lighter options, while still enjoying a fine dining experience.
One salad you’ll be tempted to make a meal out of is the Chopped Beet Salad. This large salad not only tastes fantastic, it is also a feast for the eyes. Vivid colors fill the bowl with fresh mixed greens, deep red and gold beets, orange-yellow citrus, creamy white goat cheese and toasted brown walnuts. You can almost feel your body cheering you on for all the health benefits found in this one bowl. In fact, nine out of ten doctors recommend you eat this salad and call them in the morning. All kidding aside, you’re going to appreciate the fresh flavors Chef Ronnis Gomez creatively melds together for a mouthful of magnificent.
We enjoyed our fare at the bar, which is quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite. It’s perfect for people who want an upscale place to have a drink after work, or sit at the bar for their meal—in and out. There is also a smattering of booths and tables available in the bar area, which is nestled in its own space to the side of the dining area. In the midst of the beautiful coastal photography by David Simpson and driftwood sea turtles that don the walls, the bar is comfortable, crisp, and cozy. The bartenders are attentive and professional. They make perfect Manhattans, gimlets and dirty martinis, and for Valentine’s Day, they have concocted the Kissin’ Martini, which is light, sparkly refreshing and romantic. The wine-by-the-glass menu has an array of varietals sure to please, as well as an offering of an extensive wine list.
Ah yes, the wine. How can I not talk about the wine room—the pièce de résistance? The wine room is encapsulated by glass walls filled with a collection of wine. This exquisite and unique space creatively seats a small private party of four, maybe five, and it exudes ambient elegance and elevates the mood for what is to come—a fabulous dining experience. If you reserve this room, prepare to feel like a rock star. If you have a special occasion coming, reserve it now!
I wish I could share the entire menu with you, because you need to know Celeste has Steamed Lobster on the menu every day, as well as Prime Rib…every day! But I also have to tell you about the Blackened Red Fish. It is fresh and brilliantly served over stone ground grits, gouda and a blue crab étouffée. This dish is perfection, the happy marriage of Louisiana French and Lowcountry fine. And if you follow it up with housemade Beignets, or Warm Peach and Banana Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, you can call it a night. I promise you will leave saying, “Ça C’est bon,” or in South Carolina speak: “That was dee-lish, y’all!”
Earl and his family have already made a mark in opening Celeste. “I am so grateful for the Hilton Head Island community. Celeste has been a blessing to our family. It was a pleasure to revitalize this facility. We went to work, and within six months we opened the doors. I just can’t thank the people of Hilton Head Island enough,” Earl said.
And, we can’t thank the Nightingale family enough for all the wonderful meals, festivities, community support and friendships they have brought to the Lowcountry. You see, this family has been serving Beaufort County for years. Earl’s other creations are Ela’s on the Water, The Pearl (Bluffton), and Roadhouse (Port Royal). His brands have proven staying power, which can all be attributed to excellent food, service, consistency and a great family. Mama Celeste would be proud.
When You Go
Celeste Coastal Cuisine
20 Hatton Place, Suite 300, Hilton Head Island
Reservations are Suggested
Open Daily from 5 P.M.
843-802-4744 | www.celestehhi.com