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Challenge: Can you eat on $40 a day vacationing in Hilton Head?

Gwen Fowler Gwen Fowler
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.
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Hilton Head
From waterfront restaurants to locally made products, the Palmetto State continues to make a name for itself as a top culinary destination.

Food Insider Gwen Fowler took that challenge and set out on a statewide pilgrimage. Her first stop: Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island is one of the most tasteful beach resorts in the country, with green spaces hiding shopping centers and an absence of garish lighting and tacky billboards. It's a popular choice for its beautiful beaches, golf courses, fishing and miles of bike trails.

Flamingo's Doughnut Café in Park Plaza because I couldn't resist getting doughnuts custom-made. On a weekday morning, the place was busy with lots of families getting a sweet start to the day but not so crowded that a table wasn't available.

It's too hard to choose just one, so I went for two: a caramel-apple specialty one ($1.69) and a peanut butter one with chocolate topping ($1.49). We had a short wait while the doughnuts were cooked, but they came out warm and yummy. The apple-caramel was amazingly good. Along with a small cup of coffee ($1.50), it was a great breakfast. There are other breakfast choices, from sandwiches to omelets to bagels. The lunch menu features hoagies and other sandwiches and wraps, burgers and salads.

What I spent: $6.10 (including tip)


For lunch, we headed to Kenny B's Cajun Seafood Hut, a fun spot tucked into a small shopping center next to a Bi-Lo. The restaurant is small, but it's packed with fun stuff. There are lots of Bourbon Street touches, with Mardi Gras banners and beads all over the place, and lots of green, purple and gold everywhere. And while there are a few nods to the New Orleans Saints, it's obvious that the owners' hearts belong to the University of Georgia.

The menu offers lots of Cajun treats, including crawfish or shrimp etouffe, gumbo and jambalaya poboys. I chose the red beans and rice ($7.95) because it's a favorite, but also because it fit into my budget so well. The huge portion was served in a cute, miniature black wash pot. It was excellent, with generous amounts of sausage and beans.

The restaurant is owned by Kenny and LaVern Ballard, and he gained knowledge of Cajun food cooking at the Superdome in New Orleans. We didn't meet Kenny on our visit, but LaVern was a gracious, friendly hostess. Our waiter, one of the couple's two young sons, was polite and efficient. Kenny B's was a great lunch choice. The food was good, the atmosphere is fun, and the prices are right.
Sunday brunch (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) is popular here, and the restaurant opens for breakfast every day except Monday. I'd love to try the beignets on my next visit. Closing time is 9 p.m. daily.

What I spent: $10.40 (including tip)

Afternoon snack:

I found the perfect, delicious treat for a hot afternoon at Pino Gelato. I couldn't resist a small serving of Italian ice cream ($2.50). Pino Gelato has locations in several states, but headquarters is here in Hilton Head, at the shop at The Village at Wexford.

What I spent: $2.73


Entering Frankie Bones for dinner put us in the mood to listen to a little Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. Here, the walls are decorated with pictures of members of the Rat Pack. It's definitely a trip back in time, with the cool retro logo on the menu looking like something straight out of the 1960s. Most of the seating is in comfy red leather booths. This is an upscale restaurant, and our waiter was professional. A number of families with small children were dining on the evening we visited. There's even a Brat Pack menu.

Frankie Bones' is owned by SERG restaurant group, which also owns several other Hilton Head restaurants, including WiseGuys, which is next door; One Hot Mamas; the Black Marlin; and Skull Creek Boathouse, which Family Insider Megan Sexton wrote about this spring.

The Frankie Bones menu includes prime rib ($24.99 for the 16-ounce wiseguy cut); salmon Oscar ($19.99); veal marsala ($21.99); eggplant parmigiana ($12.99); and a salmon and goat cheese salad ($16.99). As in many restaurants, some of the best deals are pasta dishes. I ordered the small serving of seafood spaghetti with red sauce ($12.99). The pasta was topped with sautéed shrimp, clam and crabs, and the small serving seemed huge. I took part of it home with me. My husband had veal ravioli ($11.99 for the small serving). Again, the serving was extremely generous, and both dishes were so tasty. I also had a salad ($2.99).

What I spent: $20.72

My total for the day: $39.95

Our friendly waiter at Frankie Bone's recommended these restaurants as other places to try: Santa Fe Café, serving Southwestern cuisine; Alexander's Seafood Restaurant, where you can enjoy fine dining and a Harley motorcycle collection; Michael Anthony's Cucina Italiana; Smokehouse, offering barbecue, steaks and seafood; and the Sage Room.

Other spots to try: A breakfast or lunch spot that sounds fun is Harold's Diner, 641 William Hilton Parkway, an old-fashioned diner where curmudgeonly service is part of the show. Sun Rise Café at Palmetto Bay Marina also was recommended for breakfast or lunch.

By the way, Rachel Ray filmed an episode of her Food Network show, $40 a Day, in Hilton Head in late 2004. She had blackberry French toast at Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery, Caribbean jerk grouper for lunch at the Sea Shack, 6 Executive Park Road, and oysters Rockefeller at Hudson's on the Docks. She also stopped in at the Old Fort Pub, which is a beautiful spot on Skull Creek, for a martini.

We set out to prove that we can eat well without busting our $40-a-day budget. Look for upcoming features on Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Greenville.

Gwen Fowler
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.