Sandbridge Island Restaurant offers a daily vacation place

SANDBRIDGE ISLAND Restaurant, Raw Bar and Island Pizza is at the end of Sandbridge Road, overlooking the beach with a glimpse of ocean. Whenever I leave Sandbridge Beach, I look with envy at customers soaking up the sun on the deck with steamed seafood and a cold one – the sort of thing I enjoy doing when on vacation.

Now that I have visited Sandbridge Island Restaurant, I think I'll be going into vacation mode more often and joining them. Mark McConnell, a Johnson & Wales University alumnus, and Thomas Blanton, who also owns Norfolk's Tanners Creek and Sandbridge's Margie & Ray's, are entering their third summer of entertaining guests with casual dining and libations, live music and a few games.

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On an early evening, we selected deck dining at one of the three plastic tables, instead of the cottage-like dining room with a center bar and booths on one side and tables on the other. While we waited for our appetizers, the deck morphed into a smokers' haven. Before 10 p.m. the restaurant and bar are non-smoking, but to our dismay, the smokers from indoors gathered around the deck.

A third of a pound each of steamed shrimp and snow crab legs, along with three oysters and three clams, made up an appealing steamed seafood platter ($18.99). The easy-peel shrimp had some small ones that were too done, but overall were satisfying in their dusting of seasoning. The snow crab legs were steamed to the point of easy surrender. We enjoyed the oysters and clams, but their doneness – closer to on the half-shell – may not have been suitable for those who don't partake in raw.

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Fried calamari ($7.99), tender rings with choice of fresh squeezed lemon or dipped in accompanying chunky marinara sauce, were tasty. My 9-year-old daughter became a calamari convert.

Other expertly fried items were onion rings and the plump oysters in the poor boy ($8.99). The menu said the sandwich came topped with french fries, coleslaw, tomatoes and lettuce. So, even th ough we had chosen onion rings as our side, we still got two fries on the hoagie roll, which was full of flavorful oysters. It also had coleslaw, which was fresh and delicious, and lettuce and tomato. It was a mighty sandwich. If you like your food separate, ask for slaw and fries on the side.

To numerous salads, one can add chicken for $4.99 and shrimp or tuna for $5.99. We opted for blackened tuna with the Greek salad ($6.99). A handsome tuna steak, expertly prepared on the outside while maintaining a moist, rare center, was awesome. The mixed-greens base, with a few stragglers past their peak, was a great backdrop for the headliner fish and accompanying feta cheese, kalamata olives, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes.

I was tempted by the stuffed flounder ($19.99), hoping it would feature local ingredients. I didn't order it when neither our waitress nor the kitchen could tell me whether the crab was regional or from foreign waters. Instead, I opted for the Friday night special, prime rib ($13.99) with choice of two sides. The prime rib, a tender medium-rare, had a savory mustard herb rub with an equally wonderful broth. A horseradish sauce was also a pleasant condiment. Fresh broccoli with hollandaise sauce in a cup and fries completed the super special.

Our server, in her first night on the job, was friendly and accommodating but lacked timing experience. She confidently recommended the double chocolate mousse cake ($5.95), in spite of its being commercially prepared. It more than met the decadent dessert test, with plenty of richness to share.

I look forward to more "vacation" time at Sandbridge Island Restaurant, a locals' favorite and tourist stop.

Tammy Jaxtheimer, flavor@pilotonline.com Text goes here