Cindy and I arrived at Halyards Restaurant on the coastal Georgia resort island of St Simons at almost precisely the appointed hour, in spite of having been delayed a few minutes by confusion over the restaurant’s location. Be forewarned, though the address is listed as 55 Cinema Lane, the “road” is little more than the entrance to a parking lot.
Halyards is located at the back of a sprawling strip mall complex and sits cozily amidst a copse of the live oak trees that stud much of Georgia’s coastal plains. It features local chef Dave Synder’s take on seasonal American cuisine. As we mentioned in a previous post, his kitchen crew recently won the Professional Chefs competition at the Georgia Shrimp and Grits Festival on neighboring Jekyll Island so we decided a visit there was in order.
Upon our arrival, the hostess greeted us warmly and promptly seated us at our table. Our engaging and knowledgeable server arrived without delay and explained the menu and the day’s specials. We ordered wine and appetizers and then took a moment to take in feel of the restaurant.
The dining area features booths with high back banquette seats lining both walls which offer diners a nice amount of privacy. They give the place a bit of a formal feel too, one that is enhanced by the low lighting, dark wall colors and heavy carpeting. A long, rambling bar extends at a right angle to the dining area and faces a wall of windows that gives the bar area by contrast a very open, airy feeling. The décor, as the restaurant’s name would imply, has a distinctly nautical theme to it.
The dinnertime crowd at Halyards dresses largely in business casual attire and looks decidedly north of age sixty. Not surprising, given that St Simons is a resort community. That said, there is a lively, sociable vibe coming from the crowd and the overall background noise level makes the place feel convivial while still allowing you to converse with your dining companions with ease.
Our drinks and appetizers arrived in short order. I had opted for the Creamy Blue Crab Bisque, which was delightful. It contained an abundant amount of sweet blue crab meat and just enough heat from the Old Bay seasoning to cut through the richness of the cream-based broth. It’s a winning dish but unless you bring a large appetite or want to share, I’d order the cup rather than the bowl.
My wife’s Crispy Calamari Rings on the other hand were an utter disappointment. The dish featured extremely small rings covered with an under-seasoned crust whose soggy limpness belied the name of the dish. Slices of fried jalapeno provided a welcome bit of spice but the inclusion of canned mandarin orange sections scattered throughout the dish was truly baffling. We both agreed we wouldn’t order it again.
For my entrée I selected the Cashew Crusted Flounder with Coconut Red Curry Risotto. The flounder was tender and flaky and the underlying bed of risotto contained just enough coconut milk and curry to accent the dish with a rich, sweet hotness without overpowering the delicate flavor of the fish. The cashews added a nice chewy, earthy-tasting element and the fresh slaw topping brought in a bright crisp note. The overall effect is well balanced and delicious, though the risotto was cooked too far past the al dente stage.
Cindy opted for the award-winning Wild Georgia Shrimp and Gayla’s Grits, which truly was a winner. The shrimp were tender and juicy, and chunks of Cajun andouille sausage added a wonderful smoky component to the rich, cheesy creaminess of the grits. The addition of grape tomatoes brought a smart acidic component to a dish that often can be one-note due to the common overreliance on cream as the star ingredient.
For dessert we selected the Warm Apple Cake with Cinnamon Ice Cream, which turned out to be a nice riff on a deconstructed apple pie with the ice cream providing the cinnamon component. It was warm, sweet and satisfying, though I found that the gooey apple topping on the cake congealed as we ate it, making it hard to cut off a piece without the entire topping pulling off.
The service throughout the meal was friendly and attentive without becoming intrusive. Our bill without the tip came to $118 and we both felt the quality of the dining experience justified the price. If you’re on St Simons and looking for a fine dining alternative to the fried seafood and neon colored boat drink joints, I recommend giving Halyards a try.