By Christine Tibbetts
ST. SIMONS, Georgia — Elegance and longevity. Fresh new cuisine wrapping around 76 years of resort history on a barrier island that began forming 200 million years ago.
Grand combination for a holiday at the King and Prince beach and golf resort on St. Simons Island.
Some pleasant places are only fancy; this one has depth too, and neighbors who stay. Here’s how that translates to tourists.
Long-time pleasures keep on happening but change filters in, everything hand-in-hand on this handsome property and throughout the barrier island.
For example: the King and Prince has long served peach cobbler for breakfast. Tradition continues. Now they’re also squeezing juice from their courtyard grapefruit trees for a Prohibition cocktail reflecting one of their historic eras.
Seven decades of menus and history with more in the making.
Well-balanced spirits are only one passion of the new King and Prince cuisine director. Fresh Georgia foods are too, and wines from near and far.
Vinny D’Agostino is his name, steeped in the flavors of his Italian family and schooled at Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island and North Miami.
A member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, D’Agostino holds a string of accolades from Bon Appetit and Food and Wine magazines for restaurants and bars he’s owned and operated.
Wild Georgia shrimp join many King and Prince menu items including this low country boil accented with olive branches from Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland
He speaks as easily of his time as a youth on family farms and vineyards in Fornelli, Italy as he does now about the wonders of wild Georgia shrimp.
“Food and drink,” D’Agostino says, “are tied to the history of place in so many significant ways. Our menus reflect that, and our chefs incorporate their Island family histories along with their professional training.”
Fine eating happens often, at the resort and around the island. In between meals, I listened to local stories on the Lighthouse Trolley, first-person tales since the owner/driver Cap Fendig hails from a family arriving here in the 1800s.
When I’m getting local history from someone whose granddaughter goes to the same elementary school he did, plus his grandfather, I feel grounded.
St. Simons Island is a different experience from resorts with passing-through, seasonal workers.
This bit of the Georgia coast has more residents than visitors: 65 percent full time, Fendig said.
Everyone I talked to loves the tidal marshes, maritime forests, freshwater sloughs and the spartina sugar cane grasses that make local shrimp sweet. They gather at Neptune Park, which visitors do too, so mixing it up is an easy pleasure.
There’s a pier for fishing and gazing and a smooth brick walkway hugging the water, leading to the lighthouse. Talk to Curt Smith; he’s the modern executive version of a light station keeper and an enthusiastic St. Simons Island historian.
Picnic tables and trees galore make Neptune Park a lingering place; for $7.00 get an all-day pass to the big swimming pool.
I walked the bricks twice after way too much breakfast at Sandcastle Café.
Tidal marshes are incubators for so many species that this Georgia coast is one of the 20 most diverse in the world.
That where Tim and Melissa Wellford have been serving legendary eggs, muffins, grits with or without shrimp, French toast, sausage, bacon and more for 24 years.
This is yet another St. Simons Island kind of place to share good conversation with residents.
Local people seem honored to live on a barrier island; Fendig says only two percent of the world’s coasts have barrier islands. Made me feel like a new frontier explorer.
Georgia has 15 barrier islands; four are auto accessible. Good idea to be OK with bridges when you go. 1924 was the first year St. Simons was connected by a causeway to the mainland.
Short and wide is the nature of these islands; North Carolina’s Outer Banks are long and ribbon-like.
Curious facts like that are easy to pick up at the Coast Guard Maritime Museum, a handsome Colonial Revival style structure, one of 80 built as WPA projects.
Definitely watch the documentary to understand the territory; National Geographic says this coast is one of the 20 most diverse in the world. Museum exhibits are clear and clean, not too much reading, good graphics.
The Coast Guard Station turned Maritime Center features clear, concise, handsome exhibits, about St. Simons Island ecosystems and history.
One section pinpoints a different kind of amazing history: World War II right off this coast. German subs targeting the beaches. Two oil tankers sank. Dogs trained as defense partners for sentry guards.
Then return to the King and Prince with a different eye knowing today’s elegant pale yellow resort became a radar training school.
The hotel opened to the public July 2, 1941 and in the winter of 1942 was reserved solely for the U.S. Navy and the war effort.
This was the gathering place for families learning their sailor had died because nearby Jacksonville, Fla. was the military point of return.
Looking up in the former ballroom to stained glass window scenes installed in 1938 when this was a private club, and looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, I mused about that war effort, and ours today.
King and Prince staff seem well versed in that history, and proud to be part of a place that sacrificed for the nation. My musing? Who is sharing any thing or any place today? Only our troops?
Travel takes my heart and soul to new places. Then the opportunity is
Shrimp and grits recipe at the King and Prince: long tradition using local wild Georgia shrimp.
mine to act on the thoughts the journeys trigger.
Lighter thoughts swirled in the ballroom too, wishing the King and Prince would reinstitute dancing dominant there decades ago.
My New Jersey parents waltzed often at the nearby Cloister Hotel on Sea Island but I found a gentler, more personable charm at the King and Prince.
Elegance to enjoy, exquisite details shared with pleasure seem the formula here. Bud St. Pierre has directed the sales and marketing for 10 years, happy he and his wife are raising young sons on this barrier island.
“We hire nice people here,” he said with almost a giggle. And I observed hotel and resort staff treating each other like they thought so too.
Many choices at the King and Prince for where to rest starting with oceanfront suites, villas, towers and rooms with balconies overlooking the tennis courts.
G.W. and I stayed in the luxurious Tabby House, a separate structure with space to share and a kitchen; could have brought some of the family.
The Meadows is also a stand-alone house, this one rich with fine and folk art and lots of levels and stairways.
Allow sufficient time when you reserve accommodations to savor the options.
Allow time, too, to explore the tidal waters on the Lady Jane
. She’s an eco boat, gathering detailed information to provide the Department of Natural Resources.
Up came the 20-foot-wide net and into a waist high table went the contents
"I never met a blue crab that wasn't angry," says Clifford Credle, naturalist on the Lady Jane shrimp boat in waters near Brunswick.
twice on my morning cruise.
Look fast because back into the water is the mission, tallying life and returning to nature.
Exceptional catches require measuring, like the green sea turtle weighing 30 pounds that surprised Clifford Credle, my 18-year-old eco guide who started learning the estuary life when he was nine with his dad Larry who captains this vessel.
Wild Georgia shrimp caught in this net don’t go back to sea; they’re cooked five minutes later and served to Lady Jane passengers.
A King and Prince holiday merges easily with St. Simons Island discoveries, not always the case with resort vacations. Sometimes they lock you in, or so it feels. Isolated.
I think I figured out the difference. King and Prince personnel really live on this island. I kept seeing them in community places as well as the hotel and grounds.
Even food and beverage director Vinny. Saw him, chowing down on ribs and Brunswick stew at Southern Soul BBQ. Good sign I thought, the pile of local oak in the front yard. Separate smokers for each kind of meat.
Four holes on the Hampton Club course involve the marshes, carefully constructed and monitored to respect and preserve this ecosystem.
I’m no golfer but the King and Prince’s Hampton Club gave me hope. Most encouraging lesson I’ve ever had was with General Manager and Head Pro Rick Mattox.
He just received a major PGA award for outstanding integrity, charity, mentoring and service to community. Golfers would recognize the Bill Strabaugh award name.
For real golfers, this course features four holes playing through the marsh, built and maintained with strict regulations, Mattox says. Marsh golf is not to be found anywhere else.
Wannabe golfers like me have a good chance of being allowed to borrow a cart in the late afternoon and experience the beauty of greens and marsh. The view stretches forever.
Driving to the Hampton Club offers a chance to see island ecosystems, and to visit at least three historic sites: Fort Frederica, Christ Church and the Wesley Memorial and Gardens.