Nothing warms the soul like a friendly neighborhood eatery and the simple pleasures of comfort food, both hallmarks of the Boulevard Diner on James Island, where eating well is still affordable. Here, as in other properties developed by restaurateur Sal Parco, the owner’s generous nature and commitment to fresh, healthy food show up in the hearty menu and full range of vegetarian, fish, and poultry specials that have kept loyal friends and families returning faithfully for more than a decade. One of nine area restaurants owned by Parco, this bustling café shares the same menu as prototype Boulevard Diner in Mount Pleasant. The recently refreshed dining rooms shine with new life thanks to added windows and a face-lift in shades of avocado, slate blue, and Moroccan red. Changes in floor design enlarged the space, lending airy charm and welcome flow as well as increased legroom to accommodate parties of all sizes. The atmosphere is pleasantly lively, but service is relaxed and unhurried thanks to friendly staff members who clearly love the food and take time to share details of ingredients and favorite dishes prepared by executive chef Troy Timpner. Boulevard’s proximity to the Terrace Theater prompted several recent pre-movie visits. During the first, we enjoyed appetizers on the slender sun porch, beginning with a summertime treasure: vine-ripened tomato and pimiento-cheese pie. This splendid mix of thinly sliced fruit, spinach, and custard topped with cheddar and pimiento was baked in a flaky crust and served with chunky green tomato chutney and a side of baby greens. When paired with a glass of iced tea or wine and the signature freshly baked bread and olive oil, it is an ample portion for a light dinner. As the menu promised, our second appetizer, an iceberg wedge salad, arrived super-chilled and beautifully garnished with blue cheese and rich balsamic-marinated diced tomatoes that added unexpected color and flavor to this refreshing traditional dish.
Bypassing the sandwich options, we selected entrées from the specials list, including chicken potpie and sriracha-seared tuna. The fresh fish had been seared with Thai hot sauce made with chilis and garlic and paired with a ginger jasmine rice cake and Asian slaw of bean sprouts, finely shredded carrots and cabbage, celery, and cilantro. A sprinkling of cashews and a splash of soy added pleasant texture and balance. The chicken potpie—the ultimate comfort dish—featured a double pastry crust and thick, creamy filling with chunks of chicken, green peas, corn, potatoes, and parsley. A favorite among kids, this is a complete meal in and of itself, needing no accompaniment. On another occasion, I took the recommendation of a friend and ordered the best-selling cashew-crusted chicken breast—tender, flavorful, and served with cranberry-sweet pepper chutney as well as sautéed spinach, tomatoes, and smashed potatoes. A sweet, slightly toasted corn bread square was a nice addition to this and another favorite—the vegetable plate, composed of fresh collards, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and other seasonal items from local farms. Upon arriving, guests’ eyes are drawn to the freshly baked desserts arranged in a large display case near the bar. Impossible to resist, the beautiful array prepared by Parco-owned Village Bakery in Mount Pleasant typically includes multilayered cakes, pies, and cheesecakes. We sampled two of our favorites: coconut cake with vanilla layers piled high under light coconut icing and toasted coconut and hummingbird cake made with bananas, pineapple, walnuts, and spice. Both slices were delightful and so large that we agreed one piece could have served two or even three. Boulevard Diner offers a slim but pleasant selection of beer and wine, and the small bar area—a result of the restaurant’s recent transition from a Mustard Seed (now located next door)—is a nice option for quick or solo dining. Your best bet, though? Bring the whole family. These comfort foods are plenty delicious to please one and all. Boulevard Diner 1978 Maybank Hwy., James Island, (843) 795-8983, www.dinewithsal.com Breakfast: Monday-Saturday, 7-10:30 a.m. Lunch & Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Average breakfast/lunch entrée: $6-$8 Average dinner entrée: $10.50