Ramona Fantini tasted her first spoonful of gelato while vacationing in Florence, Italy, in 2002. She was immediately taken with the cold, smooth dessert, and knew that people back home in America would love it too. So when she returned from her vacation, she left her corporate position and opened Pino Gelato. At her shop, artisans use a precise technique and special equipment to concoct small batches of the Italian dessert, blending fresh fruit, actual espresso, and other wholesome ingredients with milk. The result is a treat that is denser and lower in fat than ice cream, and unlike ice cream, doesn't cause everyone to scream.
In the years since Fantini starting making gelato, her business has expanded to multiple locations throughout the Southeast. At each shop, her baristas scoop gelato and dairy-free sorbetto into cups and cones and brew specialty café drinks to pair with pastries. At lunchtime, patrons can bite into an unconventional snack lauded by the Food Network: handheld cones of pizza crust filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and other savory ingredients.
The midday sun beats down on the hat-clad heads of the passengers, but they barely feel the heat. The rapt crowd has gathered on the top deck of the Holiday, their eyes collectively glued to the waters below them where a glossy fin emerged and disappeared a second ago. The onlookers’ silence suddenly dissolves into a symphony of awed whispers and camera clicks as a trio of playful bottlenose dolphins breaks through the water and splashes about near the ship. Creating moments such as this between humans and nature has been Captain Mark's Dolphin Watch Cruise’s mission since setting sail on its inaugural excursion in 1983.
Based out of Shelter Cove Harbour, Captain Mark's Dolphin Watch Cruise's experienced crew introduces visitors to area wildlife via two varieties of aquatic adventures. Daytime and sunset dolphin watch nature cruises glide past numerous scenic points of interest including Wexford Plantation, marine creatures, oyster beds, and oyster laundry piles. Alternatively, Let’s Go Crabbing trips ferry kids and adults away aboard the Crabber J II for a lively session of crustacean catching.
It's easy to mistake Alligator Grille for a casual comfort-food haven with its menu of alligator gumbo, strip steaks, and sweet-potato fries. But it's the eatery's subtle, sophisticated touches that helped it earn a AAA Three Diamond award. The grills sizzle with lightly seasoned cuts of free-range chicken, filet mignon, and wild salmon, to be paired with everything from wild-mushroom risotto to stone-ground yellow cheese grits. A modest sushi selection features familiar staples while also spotlighting some unmistakably Southern ingredients; the alligator roll pairs its titular meat with sriracha sauce, and a roll of fried oysters and coleslaw takes its inspiration and name from po' boy sandwiches.
White columns and potted greenery welcome diners to the sidewalk patio, while indoors, the tiered dining room's neutral hues and crisp white tablecloths mirror the menu's casual elegance. A chef's bar invites diners to follow their meal from pan to plate as ceiling fans gently rotate overhead, circulating the servers' telepathic conversations throughout the room.
When Skillets Café opened in 1994, its moniker reflected its sole mission: to serve up seafood-heavy breakfasts, made from scratch, in porcelain skillets. The name has stuck, but it no longer does justice to the wide array of breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare that now resides on Skillets’ menu. Servers still dish out seafood omelets and crepes, skillets of potatoes and poached eggs, and stuffed french toast, but they do so at all hours, or at least until the rooster crows at midnight. And at lunch and dinner, morning dishes are joined by sandwiches and hearty entrees such as shrimp and grits, grilled meatloaf, and filet mignon. Out on the patio, humans can dig into comforting meals while seated beside their pooches, which are welcome to chow down on items from the doggy menu.
Customers line up for southern-style seafood at The Sea Shack, where cravings for fried, grilled, or blackened seafood selections are made to order and then delivered to tables of Hilton Head locals and visitors. Along with seafood staples such as scallops, salmon, and flounder, The Sea Shack also serves triggerfish, frog legs, and conch fritters for adventurous diners who no longer get their kicks by eating rare steaks while suspended over shark tanks.
Waterfront dining takes a pleasantly casual turn at Up the Creek Pub and Grill. Guests can dine on fresh seafood and house-smoked meats while seated outside on the deck overlooking Broad Creek Marina, the water, and low-country marshes. Buffalo chicken dip, and warm potato chips with blue cheese kick off meals such as crab legs, shrimp, and burgers, which can be enjoyed from deck seats or inside, where guests can watch sports.