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If a North Carolina fish camp and a 1950s-era California steak-and-seafood restaurant had an offspring, it might look like Hello, Sailor, Joe and Katy Kindred’s new lakeside eatery in Cornelius, North Carolina. Like this project, by the owners of Kindred restaurant in nearby Davidson, it might show off a chartreuse freestanding fireplace, a wood-paneled ceiling, and terrazzo and slate floors for a mid-century modern look. And it might even fashion a Palm Springs vibe with cactus-print wallpaper and a wood screen wall by the entrance.
This is how Katy envisioned the couple’s redesign of the former Rusty Rudder space, a Lake Norman institution for the past 15 years. In addition to the vaulted ceiling, stacked-stone wall, and U-shaped custom-made bar, she called for a window wall to frame the lake view. Outside, a three-level deck with a thatched-roof Tiki bar will be the place to hang out come warm weather. Boaters can tie up at the 20 dedicated slips on the adjacent dock.
Before the Rusty Rudder was built, this site was occupied by a fish camp called Harbor Lights (long ago torn down), which holds cherished childhood memories for Joe. “We used to live a couple of coves over, and my parents would take me every Friday night to eat at Harbor Lights,” recalls the chef. “I remember eating fried bologna sandwiches and hush puppies and popcorn shrimp, and going down to the lake after dinner and feeding the fish.”
That nostalgia now infuses his menu, which features fish-camp fare such as Calabash shrimp, whole fried flounder, and fried bologna sandwiches—all executed with Joe’s signature finesse. He may make hushpuppies, but Joe elevates his version with Jimmy Red cornmeal from Geechee Boy Mill on Edisto Island, and serves them with yuzu kosho (fermented lime) honey butter. For dessert, more nostalgia: soft-serve ice cream in vanilla and chocolate, as well as seasonal swirls like pomegranate and winter citrus.
With Craig Deihl, the celebrated former chef of Cypress and Artisan Meat Share in Charleston, as chef de cuisine, Hello, Sailor equally accommodates casually dressed boaters who come for a quick nosh and date-night couples who want to feast on King crab legs and smoked beef ribeye. “We do that with a chef-driven, ingredient-focused concept, knowing where everything is sourced from,” Joe declares. “This is always going to be our philosophy for any project we do.” A slushie machine behind the bar adds to the fun, churning up icy cherry lemon Sundrop Negronis. Aperol spritzes on tap and other craft cocktails are whimsically embellished with bright knotted bendy straws and little paper umbrellas.
Christened with a cheeky name, recalling a mid-century sailor’s tattoo that Katy found while flipping through nautical images to trigger ideas for the décor, Hello, Sailor aims to be an oasis year-round. Undoubtedly it will. Who could resist a waterfront restaurant where you can forget the world for a while—one with craveable food and a light-hearted ambience that Katy sums up as “a little bit classic, a little bit Tiki, a little bit North Carolina”?
Hello, Sailor, 20210 Henderson Rd, Cornelius, NC. (704) 997-5365, hellosailornc.com. Open Mon, 5pm–close; Tue–Sun, 11am–close; reservations not accepted.
Try these must-eat dishes at Hello, Sailor
Hamachi Poke /
In this lovely light starter, cubes of buttery raw Hamachi play off the crunch of shaved radishes, benne seeds, and macadamia nuts, while uni mayonnaise adds an umami note.
Oysters Rockefeller /
Smoky, spicy collard greens replace the traditional spinach in Hello, Sailor’s updated version of this classic dish.
Salt and Pepper Catfish /
Fried cornmeal-crusted catfish, a North Carolina fish-camp standard, is made here from local farm-raised catfish that are fed a vegetarian diet. Tart house-made sauce gribiche comes alongside.
Hand Pies /
Dusted with sugar, the ethereally light and flaky layers of Joe Kindred’s divine Southern hand pies enfold seasonal combinations such as bourbon pear and cranberry ginger.