CAROLINA BEACH — Since it opened, Sands at the Beach has made the best of its tiny space on the boardwalk. Though it is tucked away down a side street in the boardwalk area, live music and drink specials seemed to keep a regular crowd happily returning – but the food never took off.
Chef Anthony Milton knew he had to try something new.
“I’ve been involved with this joint since the inception, but for the first couple of years, we didn’t get any traction on the food,” Milton said. “We all love it here on the Redneck Riveria, but for us, just making fried stuff to soak up alcohol wasn’t cutting it.”
A self-taught cook, Milton has worked in kitchens for 15 years. He said he’d often thought about breaking out of the beach-bar mold. But gourmet bar food is always a creative and financial risk, especially in an area that thrives on quick snacks and drink specials.
“Of course, you think about it all the time. But this year we just decided to go for it. We were nervous, of course. But it’s been our best season so far, people have really responded to it well,” Milton said.
Sands at the Beach’s tacos have been the main canvas for Milton’s long-repressed culinary skills. Milton’s duck tacos are a good example.
“The duck is cooked just until it’s pink, not totally rare but definitely not well done – just until the fat starts to render. Then we hit it with fresh goat cheese and a little pesto,” Milton said. “It’s definitely different, not the same boring fare.”
Milton confessed he is occasionally nervous, watching customers eat to see if he’s hit the mark. But so far, he said, people have come back to try Milton’s other creations – including pork belly tacos and blackened grouper with mango chutney. Milton changes the menu up frequently and makes everything from scratch.
“I love cooking for people and seeing them eat is a joy, I’m watching to see that moment when they’re having a kind of religious experience with these tacos,” Milton said.
Somethings on the menu, of course, have stayed the same.
“Yeah, we still sell a lot of chicken fingers – we get a lot of families in here, and we pride ourselves on being really family friendly, so – hey – that’s okay,” Milton said.
Other things have stayed the same too. The Sands at the Beach still hosts open mic nights on Wednesdays. Bartender Shayna Bahrs still greets regulars with a hug.
“Shayna’s a great bartender,” Milton said. “She knows people’s names, she knows what drink they’re having, I mean, that’s part of the atmosphere we want here. We just needed to up our food game.”
Sands on the Beach is located at 8 Pavillion Ave. S. Carolina Beach, on the Boardwalk. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Monday – Saturday, and Noon – 2 a.m. on Sundays (pending local action on the state’s recently-passed ‘Brunch Bill.’) You can find more information on specials and live music at Sands’ Facebook page.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.