Come September, when someone asks Steve Hamille what he did over the summer, he will very likely have no choice but to laugh. Anyone who will be keeping an eye on him over the next few months will likely do the same.
Why is this, you ask? "We got it done in about 24 days" is the answer.
Steve is general manager of The Deck on Tybee Island. It's a new spot in an old location. If you've spent any time on Tybee, we are talking about the old Marlin Monroe's at 404 Butler Ave.
Steve is hardly new to town. For the last year-plus, he's been working with Anthony Debreceny, owner/operator at The Collins Quarter, the coffeeshop, brunch and dinner spot at the corner of Ogelthorpe and Bull streets in the heart of the Historic District.
"I thought I'd work with Anthony for a few months and move on," Steve says. "I was on my way to Mexico."
The opportunity to help The Collins Quarter expand its footprint in the region intrigued Steve. When the opportunity came to take over the space where Marlin Monroe's existed, he jumped at it. He felt like it was the perfect spot to offer something Savannah and Tybee don't have right now.
"We are the only Tybee Island restaurant that sits on the beach. That's tough to beat," he says. And he's right.
The Deck, as it will be known henceforth, has gotten a very nice makeover. The bars have been re-built and designed for efficiency and large crowds, the kitchen space revamped and streamlined for high volume as well. The goal here wasn't to just provide another turn-and-burn fried shrimp shack. The idea was to create an oasis on the sand that would invite beachgoers in for a drink or a meal but at the same time, encourage diners to take a walk on the beach while enjoying a nice evening.
On one end is a covered deck area which will offer space for locals looking to squeeze in during busy times. On the other, plenty of seating indoors and outdoors. The views, especially at twilight, will be tough to beat anywhere on the island, except maybe A-J's Dockside Restaurant or Coco's Sunset Grille, which both offer fabulous sunset vistas. At The Deck, you have the choice to walk out onto the sand any time, day or night.
The food - and we ate a ton of it on a recent evening - was fantastic. The ahi tuna appetizer was fantastic, served with avocado, seaweed, black salt, Macadamia nuts and crispy wonton. Coconut shrimp was great as well. Everything, really, was good and there is a little bit of something for everyone, including burgers and chicken fingers. A standout was the Buffalo Hog Wing, a smallish bone-in pork shank drizzled with hot sauce and served with green onion, blue cheese and a fry stack. We were fighting over that one.
Fish or shrimp tacos, queso dip and all kinds of things you might find on the beach in Steve's native southern California.
"We modeled this place after one of my favorite beach bars in the world, also called The Deck in Laguna Beach," he says. "We understand this market isn't Laguna Beach, but we also know that some people would like a beachfront vibe and some great food and drink here on Tybee." Which brings us to an interesting point.
We all know Tybee Island doesn't do upscale. Not the nature of the beast. That's not an indictment, it's Tybee Island and a major reason why we love its quirk so much. The Deck was designed to be something just on the other side of casual. Can you get a bottle of nice Champagne there? Enjoy it on the sand in the yet-to-be-built cabana that will rest out in front of the deck? Maybe a fire pit in the winter? Of course.
Yes, there will be live music and a beach vibe, but the goal with The Deck is to attract locals out to the beach off-season for something a little different on the island.
"We aren't doing aioli," Steve tells me with a laugh. "It's still mayonnaise. I get it."
Of course, beginning right now, it is all hands on "The Deck" through Labor Day. The season is here and the entire staff is prepared for the proverbial "drinking water from a fire house" that all seasonal (especially on the beach) restaurants go through. Of course, that will be met head-on, but there is already a lot of discussion about the long game on the beach.
Anthony and Steve have brought a couple of chefs to town who are helping out at the beach ahead of another project they are developing downtown. We can talk about that another time. Point being, in due course, they are going to try to push the culinary envelope on the beach and maybe convince a few others to hop in their cars and drive out to the island. Time will tell.
All of that said, let's not overstate it: this isn't a culinary revolution on Tybee or another kind of hyperbole. This is another great spot to hang. The food and cocktails are fantastic. The beach is 40 yards over yonder, so they will be busy. If you want to try it for the first time, I'd suggest early in the week during the evening right now through the summer. They will have more than their fair share on weekends.
Meanwhile, if you see Steve or Anthony running around with their hair on fire at The Deck, remember that this space was built out and remodeled in 24 days. Enjoy the food and the view - we'll laugh about all of that later.
See you on TV,