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Right at Home at Hilltop

There’s something full circle about Hilltop House.

The charming two-story home in the heart of Haymount was converted into a restaurant more than 10 years ago by Jamie and Angelica Pantelakos. Now it’s home to a new family – three couples, two generations. The restaurant is owned by Beth Shearin-Smith, her husband, Jeff Smith, parents Ed and Sandra Shearin and brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Wendy Shearin.

But then, it has always been a family affair here.

Hilltop was once home to the Kelly sisters. They grew up, got married, began families of their own and watched as their childhood house slowly fell into disrepair. Then, they walked through that familiar oval glass door once again.

It’s that signature front door that welcomes diners today. And like any home, each room inside has personality all its own. The large sunroom is a perfect place for the Sunday brunch that has developed a loyal following. Smaller rooms provide space for a romantic dinner. Warm evenings can be spent on the back porch or patio. And the bar has a mood all its own. Wine tastings are offered on Tuesday nights. Jazz musician Reggie Codrington plays three times a week.

Hilltop is known for its comfortable ambience, but there’s the food, of course. The restaurant recently introduced a new menu that will add dishes such as Chilean sea bass and a new twist to the signature chicken but keeps favorites like the cheesecake made in house and Hilltop’s famous chocolate croissant pudding.

And brunch will still have the staples of a Sunday spread: prime rib, oysters on the half shell, shrimp and grits, omelets made to order, homemade soups and other offerings. In a town that loves to eat, there aren’t many places to find such an array for a leisurely Sunday morning or family meal after church.

“When we go out of town we love going to places that have a good brunch,” Shearin-Smith says.

Shearin-Smith has been in the food business for years. It began with catering and expanded to What’s For Lunch, the sandwich, soup and salad spot that Jeff Smith now runs in the Bordeaux Shopping Center.

“That led to Hilltop,” she said.

The restaurant business is not new to her, but it is new to her extended family. Her father and brother run their construction business from an upstairs office at Hilltop House. Her sister-in-law is a teacher. But everyone takes a turn helping out at the restaurant, a necessity in a business that is open seven days a week.

“It’s been much more fun than I thought it would be,” Wendy Shearin said. A surprise, she said with a laugh, considering, “I don’t cook at all.”

Shearin-Smith tries to get in the kitchen every chance she gets. Customers are surprised, she said, when she prepares a special request herself. She relishes the freedom to create a new dish or improve a favorite standard.

“I’m always trying to change things up,” she says. She has held special events including a low-country boil, wine dinner and rum dinner. And she is thinking about offering a murder-mystery party at the restaurant, too.

“We are family-owned,” she said. “We can do different things like that.”

It’s also possible thanks to three chefs, Matt Graham, Anthony McDaniel and Damion Gallardo. Kristine Miller is the restaurant’s sommelier. Wine Enthusiast magazine selected Hilltop for the Award of Ultimate Distinction last year. The restaurant’s wine list won a Wine Spectator 2007 Award of Excellence. The restaurant also has received awards at the annual Chef’s Auction.

Shearin-Smith says the chefs at Hilltop love what they do. “Great food,” she said, “is cooking with your heart and soul.”

It’s not just a business here, it’s a family effort. And what goes together better than family and food?