Wilmington Island used to be a quiet, sleepy little community. Residential areas were scattered and businesses practically non-existent.
Those days have faded, my friend. Subdivisions are springing up left and right, and it seems like a new business is opening up every other day.
That growth is music to the ears of Pete Samuelson and Vasili Tsiaras, owners of Grapevine restaurant.
The growth on the Island is wonderful, says Tsiaris, a Wilmington Island resident for the past 12 years. When I first moved here, there was almost nothing. Used to be if you needed something, or just wanted to go to eat, you would have to travel off the island. Now there are so many different businesses, you have no reason to leave.
The grapevine theme is seen throughout the restaurants interior; it has a very outdoors / indoors feel, reminiscent of an actual grape arbor.
The idea for the name of the restaurant was decided by everyone, says Samuelson (the restaurant venture is a family affair; Samuelsons wife, Kelli, is Tsaiariss wife Loukias, aunt). The grapevine has Greek cultural significance, which of course, was a big reason we chose it.
Cultural authenticity doesnt stop with décor at Grapevine. Before moving to Wilmington Island, Tsiaras called Greece his home. Since Grapevine opened in February 2004, Tsiaras has sought to bring the flavors of his homeland and other Mediterranean countries to our area.
I love to cook. I have been cooking all my life, says Tsiaras. Opening a restaurant has been my dream. When customers come in and they tell me how much they enjoy the food this makes me happy.
Listening to his customers is something Tsiaras cites as being one of the most important aspects of having a good restaurant.
People will tell you if they like, or dont like, something on the menu, he says with a laugh. Thats how we knew, when we first opened, if we had everything just right.
The menu at Grapevine is by no means huge, but Tsiaras says this ensures that every meal will be delivered to your table hot and fresh. The more that you have on your menu, the longer it takes to prepare things and the harder it in to ensure fresh ingredients for all of the dishes, he says.
How fresh is fresh at Grapevine, you ask? To answer, one of their signature dishes, the Stuffed Flounder, is purchased daily from Russos Seafood, a name well-known by most Savannaians. The flounder is stuffed with a house made mixture of crabmeat, baby shrimp and various herbs and spices, then baked to perfection and topped with fresh dill, paprika and lemon pepper.
All of the entrées are served with the two side items of the day, which could be anything from mashed or baked potatoes to Greek vegetable medley. Tonight, the sides were fresh green beans and baby carrots stewed with tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes and Orzo pasta (straight from Greece) with marinara. Grapevine also has a variety of appetizer selections, as well as salads and pasta dishes, a wine list featuring an assortment of Greek and Italian wines, and a childrens menu for the kiddies.
Most of the desserts at Grapevine are made by Samuelsons wife, Kelli, and he raves about her baking prowess. Her baklava is absolutely the best Ive ever tasted, he says proudly.
Grapevine may be a small restaurant, but Samuelson wouldnt have it any other way. Our size and the fact that we are not part of some larger corporation allows us to care. Small businesses have to care, not just about the food, but about the customers, he says. We treat each customer like family.
Grapevine is at 346 B Johnny Mercer Blvd on Wilmington Island, next to Sunrise Restaurant. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday. Call 897-1986.