Sweetgrass Restaurant: Adding flavor to Dataw Island
By Lyndsay Cooler | Between Beaufort and Fripp Island, one causeway off of St. Helena, is a beautiful golfing community named Dataw Island. You may have passed the sign at the turn on your way to Hunting Island many times, Dataw is accessible to the public, unlike other local islands, and that’s a good thing; because we get to enjoy incredible eats at Sweetgrass Restaurant down at the marina.
Recently we had the unique pleasure of being treated to an evening of incredible food tastings and great conversation with owner/chef Penn TenEyck. At 32, he may be young for a restaurant owner but don’t let that fool you. He takes food very seriously and has since his early childhood.
Penn started cooking in the kitchen with his mom (who still makes all the restaurants desserts today) when he was 6 years old, and knew at 15 he would go to culinary school. After the Culinary Institute of Charleston Penn amassed an impressive background of experience you can read about on his website at http://sweetgrassdataw.com/about-us.htm . Recently, he won the Big Green Egg award at Habersham’s popular Bottles & Barrels event for his Mexican corn and parmesan dish. It’s difficult to explain the dish but it’s a MUST HAVE concoction that leaves your palate singing.
Cooking is a family tradition, by the way. Penn’s parents catered the movie set for “The Big Chill”, and they also have a family cookbook you can get at the restaurant.
Penn prides himself on creating a romantic destination with a relaxed atmosphere that focuses on diversity and a unique display of responsibly sourced foods. Where possible he uses local and only the highest quality ingredients from sources including Keagan Killion Farm for meats.
The menu evolves frequently and has since Penn took ownership about 18 months ago. He and his staff are constantly creating new dishes from what’s available seasonally to support the responsible sourcing commitment they maintain. In addition to the flavor created in the kitchen with the help of sous chef Liam Smith, he insists that the front house staff and their hospitality is critical to success and it’s easy to see from the moment you walk in and are greeted. Everyone from the bar staff to the kitchen staff and wait staff are friendly, polite and accommodating.
Every seat is a good seat. You can choose to eat inside, on the screened porch overlooking the marina or just take a seat at the bar and relax. Anywhere you sit, you can be treated to beautiful water and sunset views over the Dataw Island Marina with lots of big windows.
While the restaurant doesn’t really have a signature dish, though Penn does pride himself on the beef tartar. When asked if he were to create the perfect meal from the current menu, here was his recommendation:
Old Fashioned cocktail
Panzanella salad with smoky vinaigrette
smoked rib eye
…and finish with mom’s rum cake.
While there we tried many of these dishes and then even more. The balance of flavors by mixing the right ingredients is incredible. Even the chicken livers are balanced with a sweet onion jam that is a perfect balance to a pungent liver. A must try for the kids is their veal spaghetti and meatballs. It comes with 3 veal meatballs the size of your fist, full of flavor instead of filling. The meatballs are prepared in a marinara sauce that is slow cooked for 6 hours rather than blended, Of course, the fettuccine is made in house.
The Sweetgrass twist on Shrimp and Grits (shrimp from Sea Eagle ) is the grits are made from Carolina Gold rice grits, giving it a unique flavor and texture.
The desserts are incredible and Penn calls his choices nostalgic. It’s what he grew up on and was important to maintain that homey finish to a great meal in his restaurant. His favorite is the Chocolate Mousse with Oreo pie crust.
When Penn isn’t running Sweetgrass and the Marina Outpost (which he prides himself on being fully involved in all aspects) you can find him at home with his understanding wife and two young kids, or enjoying a meal at his previous employer and best friend’s restaurant, Saltus River Grill in downtown Beaufort.
The Outpost with full expresso bar is closed on weekends but open for lunch all week. It’s a casual café. Either way you can’t go wrong with taking the short drive out to enjoy this location. It’s a great romantic date location, or casual gathering place with friends and family and truly a treat you will regret missing out on.
Photos by ESPB/Lyndsay Cooler