Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, photo courtesy Chris Hornaday
By Jan Hickel

Tybee Island is known as “Savannah’s Beach,” and it is. Just a couple of bridges and fifteen minutes separate the beautiful, historic town and the laid-back barrier island. Atlantans also claim Tybee as their own since, at just four hours away, it’s the beach closest to Georgia's biggest city.
And even though the island's vibe is strictly low-maintenance and low-key, the food is anything but low-end. There are plenty of casual but food-forward places focusing on seafood, burgers, sandwiches and cold, adult beverages which really satisfy those with discriminating taste.  

One such destination is the quaint North Beach Bar and Grille. The modest restaurant has been an island staple for years, nestled just steps from the landmark Tybee Island Lighthouse. Chef George’s Caribbean influenced menu must-haves include Plaintains-n-Salsa and Seafood Fritters to get things stared, followed by Jerk Chicken (salad or entrée) and the escovitch. Live music livens things up as the sun goes down during the summer months.

Tybee Island Social Club, courtesy Chris Hornaday
The Tybee Island Social Club is a relative newcomer to the scene - mixing the requisite laid-back Tybee atmosphere with a bit of hipster cool taqueria vibe and some culinary risk-taking. The shady patio is the perfect place to start with one of their specialty cocktails. Be sure to try the Social Mojito, the Scientist or the Phil (made of Crusoe organic spiced rum, peach schnapps, peach nectar and a harmony of spices, proceeds benefit the Savannah Philharmonic).  

Stand-out starters include Marinated Shrimp in olive oil, roasted red pepper and toasted cardamom with French bread for dipping. Another must-try “sharing” dish is the Manchego Skillet - it is pure magic, blending just the right mixture of Spanish Manchego, white wine, roasted garlic and sage with more crusty French bread for dipping. 

The tacos are already legendary including the duck cooked to “Love Me Tender” perfection with sliced radish, apple allspice topping and tomatillo salsa. The Chorizo Burger has just enough kick and the Truffle Burger is sublime with black truffle butter and the chef’s secret sauce. Fresh seafood is a given but the Shrimpy Crab Cakes and the Sapelo Island Clams confirm you’re dealing with chefs who know their stuff. Taking the “Social” in its name seriously, Tybee Island Social Club stays open late and has a Sunday brunch with a steel band, descriptively titled evenings that include Movies on the Porch, Booze & Bingo and Open Mic.

Ele Fine Fusion, courtesy Chris Hornaday
Fine Asian cuisine isn’t usually what you think of when dining in a quaint beach town but Elē Fine Fusion is bridging the gap between casual and elegant, traditional and modern. The culinary/design powerhouse duo of Sean Thongsiri and Ele Tran brings the best of their Thai and Vietnamese backgrounds to the serene setting on Wilmington Island between Tybee and Savannah. The decor, with muted color palettes, water features and thoughtful acoustics, is spa-like in mood. Just like a visit to a great spa, your anticipation and expectations are exceeded and you leave feeling pampered and sated.

The menu is both comforting and creative combing popular mainstays with a revolving menu of specials. The starters include spring rolls and green papaya salad (bok bok) and entrées feature Pad Thai, Panang Beef and a pork tenderloin dish called Kangekeown. Chef Sean’s gift is in establishing relationships with the local fishermen and farmers so that he gets the freshest, finest ingredients first and then works his magic to create  specials that celebrate the region’s bountiful treasures. Sushi lovers will be thrilled with the Tuna Tar Tar and the Elē and Rainbow rolls and beef lovers will definitely want to try the Wagyu filet.

Tybee Island delivers on being a sleepy beach town - and a perfect retreat from Atlanta - but you'll be surprised, and delighted, at the variety and quality of dining options that will make you want to stay awhile. 

For more info:

Where to Stay:
Oceanfront Cottage Rentals - 85 properties all over the island. From one bedroom condos to  beachfront mansions with six bedrooms. Many are pet-friendly. oceanfrontcottage.com