The restaurant bearing his name, Darren Clarke’s Tavern, opened in June at 8 Executive Park Road on Hilton Head Island, bringing with it more than just an Emerald Isle feel. Clarke and his management team worked with the Irish Pub Company in Dublin, Ireland, along with McNally Design International, which designed and built the interior of the pub then shipped the materials to Hilton Head Island to be installed. The company specializes in building Irish taverns all over the world. Golf memorabilia is displayed throughout the restaurant, along with the bric-a-brac that contributes to the pub’s personality. It’s what makes a pub a pub — that is, after the personality of the staff and patrons.
“Darren always played in The Heritage and has fun memories of playing here,” said managing partner Michael Doyle, explaining why Clarke selected Hilton Head Island for his first restaurant venture. Doyle himself has personal ties to the island and remembers vacationing here as a young boy. He also came to the island as an adult to play golf.
“The restaurant concept came about over espresso martinis in New York City about two years ago,” he said. “We were able to fast-track it because as we were redesigning the interior and some parts of the exterior, our furniture was being built in Ireland so we had kind of a parallel build. The architectural team at Court Atkins Group and Highsmith Construction worked extremely well together. They have been working in the Lowcountry for a long time now.”
Doyle is a seasoned veteran in the restaurant industry and no stranger to the kitchen. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University, eventually reaching the position of general manager at iconic New York City restaurants like The Post House, Quality Meats and Smith & Wollensky. He is now based full-time at Darren Clarke’s Tavern to oversee the sprawling 200-seat space.
“We’re open for dinner seven days a week. Eventually, we’re planning to open for lunch,” Doyle said. “We’re working on what's known in the U.K. as a ‘Sunday Roast’ that would be served on Sunday afternoons consisting of prime rib, duck, roast chicken and other great meats for cooler weather.”
THE RESTAURANT CONCEPT CAME ABOUT OVER ESPRESSO MARTINIS IN NEW YORK CITY ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO.
A native of Michigan, executive chef Thomas Boland attended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute with a concentration in classical French training. He launched his career as a training chef at Capital Grille in Arizona, and then worked at well-established restaurants in the Lowcountry before running the kitchen at Darren Clarke’s Tavern. Bringing in menu items from Clarke’s home country meant offering some well-loved Irish tavern dishes: steak and Guinness pie, porcini-rubbed lamb chops, Captain Clarke’s fish and chips, and the Clarke Burger — a generous beef patty topped with beer cheese, bacon jam and Guinness sauce. Diners can also select other classics like French onion soup, steak tartare, shrimp cocktail and creamed corn.
“Our menu is a complete mix of tavern and steakhouse. We created two restaurants in one: the steakhouse being the influence of Smith & Wollensky,” Doyle said. “The response has been very positive. We did a very soft opening. The spring and fall, we anticipate those will be our busiest seasons. It's great everybody from the different neighborhoods and communities knows each other when they walk into the dining room; neighbors are greeting neighbors.”
Boland and Doyle spent a few months researching their USDA prime meats and then narrowed it down to the top five. Then they did a blind taste test, and Mayer Ranch won hands down. The restaurant has a special broiler that heats up to about 1,600 degrees, and it took some experimentation for the pair to become comfortable with such a powerful piece of equipment. Desserts — bread pudding, Key lime pie, and crème brulée — are made in house. Another special treat has a local connection.
“We do have one special very special dessert called the Guinness Chocolate Cake, which is made by chef Leslie Rohland, owner of The Cottage in Bluffton,” Doyle said.
But, of course, there’s more than just a good meal to be had. After all, this is a tavern.
THE BAR IS THE HEART OF A TAVERN
“The bar is the heart of a tavern,” Doyle said. “At the bar we have a focus on Irish whiskeys and then, of course, single malt Scotches from the U.K. and we also have local bourbon and lots of draft and bottled beers. We installed a specialty top for the Guinness, so it pours a perfect beer, like in Ireland. Our Irish Mule is made with Jameson, simple syrup, ginger beer and served in a copper mug.”
Next year, Clarke will turn 50. His fans can sit in his tavern and watch him tee off in the Champions Tour, where he’ll add to his memorabilia collection and fall in love with the Lowcountry all over again — a green and lush island like home.