“Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through, just an old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind.” – Ray Charles
One of our favorite places to visit any time of year is a mere hop, skip and a jump over the Florida Georgia line. Sea Island is a quaint and utterly charming sea side town nestled between the marsh and Atlantic Ocean on the Georgia coast. It is part of the Golden Isles of Georgia which also includes Jekyll Island, St. Simon’s Island and Little St. Simon’s Island. Located approximately sixty miles north of Jacksonville, FL and sixty miles south of Savannah, GA, this special place is home to one of the most beautiful resorts on the east coast, The Cloister.
Established in 1928 by Bill Jones and automobile magnate Howard Coffin, The Cloister was initially intended to be a “friendly little hotel” on the southern coast of Georgia. While early critics had their doubts due to the swampy, mosquito-infested locale, the architecture of Addison Mizner, whose work had already attracted the well-heeled crowd to Palm Beach and Boca Raton, helped draw vacationers in droves. The hotel’s great popularity and Coffin’s astute business acumen even helped the hotel survive the Great Depression. Despite the passage of time the values of treasuring family, friends, and nature still remain at the heart of this very special place.
For almost 90 years now, the foundation of genuine warmth and hospitality has remained The Cloister’s guiding compass and despite a major renovation which took place from 2003-2006 during which the main building was essentially replaced, the hotel still retains its original feel albeit with some modern and luxurious updates. CEO and descendant of the hotel’s founder, A.W. “Bill” Jones III entrusted architect Peter Capone to create a new incarnation of the hotel that was on par with some of the finest resorts in the country. Thankfully, this standard of excellence extended to their food and wine program which is still very evident today at each of the hotel’s restaurants. These include the River Bar, Tavola, Southern Tide, Colt & Allison, and the jewel in the Cloister crown, the Georgian Room, the only Forbes 5-star restaurant in the state of Georgia where Chef Daniel Zeal creates a truly memorable and inspired dining experience. During a recent visit to The Cloister we had the pleasure of experiencing four of the hotel’s restaurants, each with it’s own uniquely different feel. Here’s our take on each:
The River Bar: we usually arrive at The Cloister in the early evening and as soon as we’ve checked in we make a beeline for this place! From their creative Craft Cocktails (check out the recipe for their Smoked Sazerac) to the interesting yet approachable wines by the glass, there’s always something to parch your road-weary thirst (see smile on Steve’s face above). Inspired by a French brasserie, this inviting space overlooks the Black Banks River and is a perfect spot to watch the sunset. Chef de Cuisine Jeremy McGarry‘s seasonal menu is chock full of delicious bites including the White Bean Soup with Andouille Sausage and Collard Greens (a must!), Fried Green Tomatoes (a true Southern classic), and the French-inspired Roasted Chicken with Broccolini and Mushroom Ragout, Lardons, and Natural Jus. For dessert the Beignets de Brioche with Warm Caramel and Chocolate Sauce are a MUST and if you’re in the mood for a cigar after your meal, be sure to check out the beautifully appointed Cigar Room just outside the River Bar’s entrance.
Southern Tide: located at the hotel’s Beach Club this is the resort’s only beachfront eatery and on a sunny day it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch sampling some of Georgia’s delicious coastal cuisine. The menu features classic low country favorites such as Brunswick Stew, Creole Spiced Shrimp and Grits, and Peel & Eat Shrimp as well as a selection of fresh, flavorful salads including a Classic Caesar, Iceberg Wedge and Spinach & Kale Salad with Grilled Red Onion, Sea Island Peas, Feta and Tomato Vinaigrette. Southern Tide is also very family friendly and after lunch you might want to take the kids across the breezeway to Wonderland, Sea Island’s sweets shop for a Gold Brick Sundae or other sweet treat!
Tavola: this eatery features rustic Italian cuisine in a sophisticated yet approachable atmosphere. Whether you grab a seat in the inviting bar area or at a table in the lovely dining room or outside on the terrace you’re sure to find something delicious on the menu which features a little something for everyone in the family from wood-fired pizza and a selection of pastas to more sophisticated fare such as Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Mussels with Preserved Lemon Garlic Broth, and Roasted Lamb Loin with Artichokes, Caper Berries, & Lamb Ragu. For the oenophiles among you the wine list is a real treat featuring many wonderful selections from around the globe. During our recent visit we were fortunate to find a 2000 Chateau Musar from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on the list, a relatively obscure vinous gem. It was definitely worth the splurge and paired deliciously well with the lamb and the veal special on the menu that night.
The Georgian Room: if you’re in the mood for refined, Southern-inspired cuisine at its finest then this restaurant is not to be missed! The beautifully appointed space features sumptuous fabrics in varying hues of pink, green and beige accented by an ornately carved stone mantel, handwoven tapestries, and gold and crystal chandeliers. The tables are set with hand-painted china, silver flatware, and European linens and the cuisine does the atmosphere one better featuring ingredients sourced locally and globally in order to create a “new southern” cuisine. Some of our favorite dishes included the Seared Foie Gras with Black Olive, Candied Onions and Rosemary Bread Pudding, Arctic Char with Carrot Confit, Pickled Lemon, and Black Beluga Lentils, and the Barbeque Pork featuring Belly, Loin and Rinds with Collards, Pimento and Black Eyes Peas. The wine selection also rises to the level of the cuisine featuring stellar selections from around the globe as well as a Sommelier to expertly guide you in making your selection. We enjoyed a 2012 Graville-Lacoste Bordeaux Blanc followed by the 2006 Ségla, second label of Bordeaux second growth Chateau Rauzan-Ségla, which was deliciously approachable and made the perfect accompaniment to our meal.
There are a few different options for dining at the Georgian Room, guests with adventurous palates can sample an exquisite Chef’s Tasting Menu complete with wine pairings or reserve the Chef’s Table Experience and dine right in the kitchen! The personalized service and attention to detail at every level make it easy to see how this talented team not only earned but keeps its coveted Forbes 5-star rating.
In addition to all the wonderful dining options, here are an additional 5 things NOT to be missed at The Cloister:
1.) The Spa: splurge on a massage or facial and plan to linger either before or after your appointment in the beautiful, relaxing indoor garden. The lush greenery and soothing sound of the waterfalls will further enhance your relaxed state. The Spa’s boutique and the Fitness Center are also worth exploring if you have the time.
2.) Bagpipes at Sunset: The Lodge Golf Club is a hidden gem located on St. Simon’s Island a quick 10-15 drive from The Cloister. Reminiscent of an English country manor, the Lodge offers guests even more privacy as well as added amenities including 24 hour butler service. Every night at sunset, a bagpiper serenades guests on the rolling green back lawn, the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail after a round of golf played on one of the resort’s three championship courses or before dinner. On our last visit a majestic bald eagle joined us as well!
3.) B-I-N-G-O: Bingo is a rich tradition at The Cloister and is a perfect activity for the whole family. This isn’t your average Bingo game, however, the dress code requires jackets for gentleman over the age of 12 and dinner attire for ladies. Due to demand, you’ll want to plan in advance for this activity. Bingo isn’t offered all year round and when it is, it tends to sell out quickly so be sure to check the schedule prior to your trip.
4.) Kitchen Tour: for all you foodies a tour of the kitchen is a must and also includes the beautiful Georgian Room restaurant and extensive wine cellar. Your tour guide, usually one of the hotel’s Chefs or Sommeliers, will take you behind the scenes and give you all the scoop about how the hotel operates its food and wine service efficiently while still maintaining its high standards.
5.) Morning Coffee in the Solarium: This beautifully appointed, sunny, orchid-filled room located on the first floor of the main hotel is the perfect place to enjoy your morning coffee. There’s even a pair of lovebirds to greet you as your start your day.
The Cloister at Sea Island, 100 Cloister Drive, Sea Island, GA, 31561, 800.732.4752, www.seaisland.com