St. Simons is not known for its night life, so breakfast is a BIG DEAL on the island. Tim and Melissa Welford own Sandcastle Cafe, one of the most popular cafes for locals and visitors alike. They opened in 1989, the reviews were great, and they quickly became a favorite. Located at 117 Mallery Street, they are within sight of the main pier. There is a breakfast bar 7 days a week, but you can have your eggs prepared to order and your choice of pancakes, French toast or waffles. Melissa estimates that they fry 45-60 pounds of bacon on any given Saturday, and the diner seats 65 hungry people at a time.
Don’t look for designer coffees or cappuccinos. Instead, they search out the best brand they can find, and each pot is ground fresh.
Framed vintage photographs line the walls of Sandcastle revealing the history of this popular diner.
Lunch is a la carte and consists of soup, salads, and sandwiches. Sandcastle closes at 2:30 p.m. each day. They occasionally open at night, but only for private parties.
Melissa says that these hours suit the St. Simons people. She describes them as quiet and peaceful. “When the sun comes up, it’s time to get up. When the sun goes down, it’s time to go in.” That’s the rhythm she feels on the island. She and Tim spotted the For Sale sign on a visit years ago, and asked themselves “Wouldn’t it be fun to own a place like this?” From all appearances, they are still having fun.
LUNCH or NIGHT-TIME FUN ON WEEKENDS —
We found Gnat’s Landing for lunch, located in Redfern Village — a place with lots of boutiques and interesting shops, plus 4 other restaurants and a late night bar. Ryan Pope, his dad and brother have owned the restaurant since 2012. It is considered an island staple for lunch and seats up to 175. Most of the area consists of open air dining with a section indoors. We were there when the breeze and the temperature were perfect. There are plenty of fans if the air needs a bit of stirring in the middle of summer. A large projection screen TV keeps the sports fans happy. They are open 7 days a week from 11:30 a.m. until “last call.” (I am WAY too old to know what that means).
This venue is popular for casual wedding rehearsal dinners, and you’ll find a fun “gnatio” (their term for the patio) out back. Gnat’s is said to be “flip flop friendly,” and you are likely to be seated at wooden picnic tables with a group of your good friends. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the Popes host live musicians, and Thursday is Trivia Night.
Our group chose to sample a variety of items from the appetizer menu (known here as Bug Bites) before ordering our main course. The fried pickles and fried green tomatoes were great, but my personal fave was the Vidalia Onion Pie. It is served in a ramekin and is more like a dip than a pie. Would somebody PLEASE share that recipe??? We also tried a cup of their St. Simons stew (which is really Brunswick stew) and a cup of seafood gumbo. Believe it or not, we STILL had room for more.
Gnat’s has a Famous Slaw Bowl which is crunchy with ramen noodles and almonds. I chose to try that topped with grilled scallops. Steve chose the housemade tuna salad which had many traditional ingredients along with carrots, celery and red onions.
Theirs is a very family-friendly menu with a wide variety of options. I have already spotted several other choices I’d like to try on my next visit.
According to Cap Fendig who owns Lighthouse Trolleys, there are 67 restaurants on St. Simons Island (which is roughly the size of Manhattan). I believe we found two of the best — and met some delightful people in the process.