St. Simons Island: Eat, Drink and Party Island-Style

St. Simons Islanders like any excuse to gather and have a good time—and this charming getaway offers up some of the finest restaurants, musicians and festivals.

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Photo By: Andrew Thomas Lee

Photo By: The Darkroom Photography

Photo By: food.com user: gaillanng

Photo By: Palmer's Village Cafe

Photo By: Palm Coast

Photo By: Anthony Stubelek

Photo By: Eliot VanOtteren; Coastal Georgia Historical Society

Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: Anthony Stubelek

Photo By: Benjamin Galland

Southern Soul Barbeque

This BBQ joint has put St. Simons on the culinary map, not only earning noteworthy applause from Garden and Gun Magazine and Southern Living, but also landing spots on TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” and Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Fame hasn’t changed the way owners Giffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp have always made good food: slow, steady, and in full southern style. Their rubs are made from scratch daily, they bottle their own sauces and they cook in an outdoor pit using only wood. Pulled pork and sweet ribs coated in brown sugar and Tupelo honey rank among the favorites, but the Brunswick stew, homemade pimento cheese and smoked chicken salad can’t be overlooked. Meat and three? Yes, please.

Halyards

This restaurant seamlessly blends laid-back island environment with upscale food. Owner and Executive Chef Dave Snyder consistently impresses guests with creative dishes thoughtfully—and locally—sourced. Chef Snyder recognizes that Georgia is home to some of the best family-owned farms and dairies, and with an entire ocean at his front door, his food brings new meaning to fresh and farm-to-table. The wild Georgia shrimp and grits is a must-have, and there’s a good reason why the recipe for the creamy blue crab bisque has remained the same for decades: if it ain’t broke…

Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria

Come to Sal’s for authentic New York-style pizza; stay for the story. The restaurant’s owner, Sal “Rocky” Cenicola, is a former professional boxer. Born and raised to an Italian family in New Jersey, Sal turned pro in 1982 and has since been inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and holds the world record for longest comeback in boxing history. Consequently, he’s all hard work, energy and heart. Sal enjoys table-side visits with customers, many of which have been coming to the pizzeria since it first opened. Like Sal, the restaurant and menu is no-frills; it’s simply good food served in a friendly atmosphere. Pizza from the brick oven is clearly Sal’s staple, but other traditional Italian favorites like veal picatta and eggplant parmigiana are a guaranteed “K.O.”

Palmer’s Village Café

“The place” for breakfast, this local hot-spot, inconspicuously nestled in the The Village and tucked behind unassuming wooden doors, is home to five-star Chef John “JB” Belechak and his mind-blowing culinary creations. But it’s entirely without pretension. The playful menu features everything from poached eggs over collard greens and house-made tomato jam to what’s known as The Local (aka “The Islander”), an artistically designed egg white tri-fold with avocado, cheese and bacon served with seared tomatoes and arugula topped with cucumber ribbons. Yes, ribbons. Breakfast is so popular here, it’s served all day. But Chef JB—whose resume includes Blackberry Farm and The Cloister at Sea Island—offers an entirely new dinner menu every week based on what’s in season from local and regional farmers. You know, to keep things fresh.

Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe and Pub

As the name indicates, this unassuming little yellow house has it all. In addition to being an authentic island coffee house offering homemade sweets and an open mic, Palm Coast transforms every weekend into one of the island’s most popular outdoor music venues for local and regional talent. The outdoor patio and courtyard is pet-friendly and home to a few Palm Coast fur babies itself. An affordable menu (the most expensive being the popular seared Ahi tuna wrap for a mere $13) and an extensive and constantly evolving craft-brew menu keeps customers coming back for more.

4-Hour Music Fest

For four years running, Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe and Pub has played host to four hours of non-stop rocking revelry at this intimate musical celebration on Labor Day weekend. From 8 p.m. until midnight, audiences fill the outdoor courtyard and patio, tossing back craft brews and cocktails, and keeping time with the tunes from local and regional talent. Seven bands play everything from Celtic folk to acoustic rock, delighting concert goers with an authentic, grassroots music festival—for nothing more than a cover charge.

A Little Light Music

Each year the Coastal Georgia Historical Society releases the lineup for its summer concert series, A Little Light Music. The season runs May-September, so it’s easy to catch any one of the concerts that fall on select Sundays each month. Taking place on the seaside lawn of the historic St. Simons Lighthouse, musicians from around country entertain crowds from the outdoor gazebo with classic rock, Motown, blues and more, depending on the day. Concert goers are encouraged to bring their own beach chairs and blankets to beat the evening breeze, as well as pack picnics and libations for an easy-going experience for the whole family.

Sounds by the Sea

Rounding out the calendar of summertime music-going experiences is this summer concert series presented by the Golden Isles Arts & Humanities. On alternate Sundays of A Little Light Music, Sounds by the Sea takes place on the expansive lawn (the “casino”) of St. Simons’ most popular ocean-side park, Neptune Park. Concert goers spread out their beach chairs and coolers under the live oaks to enjoy any one of the five concerts specifically scheduled during high tide for a bug-free evening of music with a welcoming ocean breeze.

Local Talent

A bevy of skilled musicians continue to breathe life into the Island’s live-music scene. These talents include none other than bassist/songwriter Phil Morrison. Known best as a member of the late ‘60s and ‘70s electric jazz group Stark Reality, Morrison has also played with the great Dizzy Gillespie and Freddy Cole (Nat’s youngest brother). As both a world-class musician and a Golden Isles resident, he and his jazz ensemble are a crowd favorite and often headline the island’s summer concerts. Morrison even wrote the official song of the Golden Isles, “Take me to the coast of Georgia.”

St. Simons Food and Spirits Festival

For five days during the first week of October, the Food and Spirits Festival transforms the island into a non-stop drinking and dining extravaganza that showcases the area’s top culinary talents. The main event, Tastings Under the Oak, which offers hundreds of food and drink tastings, takes place in the historic—and breathtakingly scenic—Gascoigne Bluff Park. Festival goers enjoy dozens of additional events across the Golden Isles like the Chef Showdown, Farmers and Artisans Market, oyster roast and even a Kids Zone. In its fourth year, the festival is quickly becoming a culinary destination event.