Okan Restaurant showcases Chef Bernard Bennett’s thoughtfulness

Selection of dishes from Okan Restaurant by Chef Bernard Bennett in Bluffton South Carolina, photo by Cristine Struble
Selection of dishes from Okan Restaurant by Chef Bernard Bennett in Bluffton South Carolina, photo by Cristine Struble /

Nestled into the Low Country, Okan Restaurant is a gem that shines at every turn. From highlighting the best of local dishes to telling a story on every plate, this restaurant will quickly rise to a must-visit destination. For those who have not discovered this dining enclave, it is time to book a trip.

When the James Beard Foundation recognized Chef Bernard Bennett for his food truck version of Okan, many people were curious to taste those food offerings. Now that his brick and mortar location of Okan Restaurant, at The Bridge Collective in Bluffton, South Carolina, is open, people are lining up to get one of those coveted tables.

Walking into the restaurant, the space feels luxurious yet familiar. From the warm tones to the visually stunning artwork, the ambiance sets the tone for the journey that guests will take. Whether it is laughter coming from a corner booth or the hushed tones from a couple enthralled with the flavor experience, Okan is the place to see and be seen.

Okan Restaurant appetizer
Okan Restaurant appetizer, photo provided by Cristine Struble /

Overall, the menu blends locally sourced ingredients with a journey through Carribean and African influences. Although some people will be familiar with the names, references, and flavors, the menu descriptions and explanations help guide guests. The sense of inclusion is felt in every aspect. There is a bridge connecting every diner; people just have to take that first step to discover it.

Chef Bernard took the time to study, appreciate, and develop his dishes. While he honed his culinary skills in Chicago, the Bluffton location offers ingredients at the peak of their freshness. From oysters provided by local purveyors to the farmers who set up the market just a block away, the chef takes advantage of the seasonal, locally sourced ingredients to bring the most flavorful food to the table. Creativity can soar when the foundation is strong.

Looking at Chef Bernard’s menu, the dishes stand on their own yet have a uniting thread. Rice is at the heart of many offerings. Given that the food crosses cultures on every continent, it is one chapter in this story. Beyond the classic Carolina Gold offering, people can see how the different grains set the tone for the other dishes.

Whether eaten together or separately, it showcases that a humble ingredient deserves to be the center of the table. Similar to enjoying conversation and learning from others, that rice absorbs all the flavor, nuance, and tradition which makes each forkful satisfying and even nurturing.

Okra at Okan Restaurant
Okra at Okan Restaurant, photo provided by Cristine Struble /

Of course, Southern favorites, like okra, are on the menu. But, the dish has a twist with the use of harissa. That blend of cultures is at the heart of everything at Okan.

Another side that cannot be missed is the bread service. From a traditional cornbread to the bara and coco bread, these options are a reminder that well-made food should be celebrated. It does not need smoke and mirrors to enhance the eating experience. Time and care in the kitchen will always deliver an amazing meal.

Since Okan Restaurant is best enjoyed with friends, consider ordering several entrees to share around the table. The menu is broken into sections, with sea, land, earth, and hearth as the guiding segments. Although guests might want to order one of everything, it might be better to come back a few times to try all the dishes.

A hew highlights include the Duck and Oyster Gumbo, Local Grilled Fish, and Djon Djon Noodles. Ordering these three dishes makes for a succulent feast. Each one has a little surprise flavor in the dish. From the hint of a globally inspired spice to a twist on a downhome classic, the thoughtfulness in the recipe creation is clear. Given the hearty portion size, it is difficult to finish every scrumptious bite on the plate.

Okan Restaurant Bluffton South Carolina
Selection of dishes from Okan Restaurant by Chef Bernard Bennett in Bluffton South Carolina, photo by Cristine Struble /

At the same time, dessert must be ordered to complete the meal. While the offerings vary, the dessert do not venture too far into the sweet side. From a slight tangy panna cotta to house made ice cream, the touch of sugar satisfies. More importantly, consider ordering a dessert that might not be an instantly recognizable name. Similar to the other dishes on the menu, Chef Bernard includes globally inspired recipes that might become a new favorite.

Overall, Okan Restaurant is a sparkling gem that shines brightly in the Bluffton food scene. It is only a matter of time till the chef and his restaurant will become a sought-after destination for food travelers far and wide. It is better to get a seat at the table before his meteoric rise makes reservations impossible to get.

Okan Restaurant is located at The Bridge Collective in Bluffton, South Carolina. Restaurant reservations can be made on Resy.

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