Coastal Cuisine

Island Thyme features Florida, Caribbean Favorites

By Amy Rogers | Photos by Ray Sepesy

That banging you hear coming from the kitchen isn’t construction work. It’s the chef cracking open conch shells to get the meat from the mollusk. That’s how Island Thyme can claim conch fritters that rival those you’d normally find in Florida.

Chef and owner Earl Losey grew up in a restaurant family, but it was his move from Michigan to South Florida in 2001 that stoked his appetite for coastal cuisine. Fishing excursions to the Bahamas, Tortugas, Turks and Caicos and other islands deepened his appreciation for Caribbean cooking.

During trips to visit family in Charlotte over the last few years, Losey saw the many chain restaurants in the area and noticed an opportunity. He realized: “With the connections I have in Florida, why don’t I just do what is (uncommon) here? Fritters, chowder and seafood straight out of Florida to here, out of the water two days?”

So, he and his partner, Michele Bougard, decided to buy a home here — and open a restaurant, too.

Its name is a tribute to a fresh herb that’s found across the islands, according to Losey. It’s also a play on words for a tropical state of mind. Bougard explains, “If you have a contractor coming at 5, you have to ask him, ‘What day?’ That’s island time.”

“Lunch time could be 4 in the afternoon or 10 in the morning,” Losey adds.

At Island Thyme, Losey smokes mahi and wahoo in-house to create a traditional fish dip with a creamy bite. For diners who like more intensity, pickled jalapeños on the side will turn up the heat.

For conch fritters, nuggets of conch meat are blended with breading and fried into perfectly browned fritters. They can be dipped into tangy cocktail sauce; although, some purists enjoy them with just a squeeze of lemon. Losey concocts an array of sauces that includes guava barbecue and mango habanero.

Minty mojitos pair perfectly with island fare, but it’s fun to change things up with a Bermuda Bushwacker blended from tropical rums and liqueurs. Depending on what’s in season, raw bar offerings will vary while Taco Tuesdays feature mahi and shrimp tacos. The restaurant posts each day’s “fresh catch” specials on its website.

Bougard is the pastry chef behind the authentic Key lime pie, coconut flan, baked bananas, flourless chocolate cake and banana brownies, all of which give a sweet, final touch to a meal.

With the influx of Floridians to the Carolinas, people who are homesick for fish chowders and barbecue-sauced shrimp are finding their way to Island Thyme. The restaurant is tucked away at The Fountains, but it’s easy to spot when the colorful umbrellas and deck chairs on the patio come into view. That’s partly a nod to a long-standing Caribbean tradition of seeking out places that are off the beaten path.

But how does this slower pace of doing things play out in a punctual, business town like Charlotte? The proprietors tell diners, “Good food isn’t fast, and fast food isn’t good.” (There’s a painted sign in the dining room as a reminder.) “People are picking up on that more and more,” says Bougard. And as spring and summer days grow longer and more leisurely, that attitude is coming at the best possible time.

Island Thyme

8129 Ardrey Kell Road

Charlotte 28277