Sip Sip is a little restaurant in Harbour Island that’s been there for 15 years. Everything is homemade, and as owner Julie Lightbourn says, it’s Bahamian with a twist. (Sometimes she even calls it “Caribterranean”). It’s this style of cooking that has made Sip Sip world famous and the place to dine at when visiting the island. And you’d better get in between 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. and be cognizant of the fact that the kitchen closes at 3:45 p.m. And you’re seated on a first-come-first serve basis, because they do not take reservations. Fast forward a decade-and-a-half, having developed a loyal and dedicated clientele, this now iconic island outpost has opened the doors to its second location, at The Cove Resort, the ultra-luxury enclave on Paradise Island.
“What Sip Sip is bringing to the Atlantis brand is verification of the embracing of Bahamian culture,” said Lightbourn.
The Bahamian with a twist staple lunch menu features signature menu items like spicy conch chili; the iconic and must have lobster quesadilla with chipotle-lime crema and tropical salsa; a Grouper “Reuben” with batter fried grouper, toasted island bread, coleslaw, Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing; conch chili cheese dog; and the Sip Sip carrot cake with ginger caramel.
Along with the standard 13-item menu, there is a blackboard menu that changes daily.
“At Sip Sip we have a very small menu, and it’s basically hummus, the lobster quesadilla, a wonderful pub burger, our famous carrot cake, and seasonal homemade ice cream flavors that changes with what’s in season. We like to cook with the season, so the objective was to take our signature dishes such as conch chili, the lobster quesadilla and bring them to Atlantis,” said Lightbourn.
“We have seasonal specials and they rotate out depending on what the weather is like. If it’s cold we make a soup and what we feel like doing that day. People are always getting the best. It’s home cooked. And cooked with love.”
The Grouper “Reuben” is one of the menu offerings created specifically for Sip Sip at The Cove and will not be found in Harbour Island. It’s like a classic Reuben sandwich, except Lightbourn did what she does best, and Bahamianized it. She takes a beautiful grouper filet, seasons it with goat pepper and salt, marinates it in fresh lime juice and serves it on toasted island bread.
With a solid reputation to Sip Sip’s credit, Lightbourn was approached last year by Atlantis to join them.
“It was actually very funny — someone reached out to me on Facebook, and I’m not a big Facebook person. We [Lightbourn and husband Jim Black] were on holiday and I didn’t see it until I came back, and there was this message from my friend who works here [at Atlantis], Ed Fields, and he said, ‘How do I get in touch with you?’ I sent him my information and then I had to dash out to the Piggly Wiggly, the local food store because the restaurant was really busy. I had just got off my golf cart and my phone rang, and it was Ed Fields. And there I was marching up and down in front of the Piggly Wiggly as he asked me. ‘Julie, would you come to Atlantis?’ I was like oh my God, can I just think about this for a few moments.”
Lightbourn thought about. Sip Sip at The Cove is now open. It’s operating hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lightbourn’s responsibility is the food. Every month she will come to Atlantis to work with the chefs and front-of-house staff.
Prior to Sip Sip’s opening, she worked with chef Qutell Black-Bain, and Nicholas Nixon, general manager at Cove Pool and educated them on the Sip Sip way. The duo traveled to Harbour Island where they worked with Lightbourn and her staff for a week and randomly sampled everything on the menu.
“One of the things that blew them away was the homemade island bread. Bahamian white bread is a little on the sweet side and everybody loves that, so Nicholas and Quetell were eating this grouper sandwich one day, and they were like man, this bread is so good. In fact, they ordered some to bring back to Nassau before they left.”
The bread at Sip Sip Harbour Island is made by 83-year-old Rowena Sands who lives in Gregory Town. She has been making Sip Sip’s breads by hand since they opened.
“Nicholas and Quetell were like how could we possibly get this bread at The Cove. Over the next few days a discussion ensued about how they would go over to Mrs. Sands’ house and learn the recipe from her and bring it back and the pastry department would be making the bread to Mrs. Sands’ recipe, and one day, all-of-a-sudden Nicholas said I got it 3S, and I said, ‘3S — what’s that? Is that like a new flour?’ And he said no the 3S Bakery.”
Lightbourn and two of her staff came to New Providence to begin working with The Cove staff on the recipes. Their first order of business was to check out the 3S Bakery bread. Lightbourn said they got there and found the line out the door.
“I wanted to try the coconut bread, but that was already sold out. When we finally got up to the counter and was able to order some stuff, there was no bread in there at all, only pull-apart rolls, so we bought those. While I was there I explained to a manager what we were after, and they hooked us up with one of the Strachans who own 3S Bakery, and the rest as they say is history.”
While she shared that Sands makes their bread, she also offered up the “sip sip” (colloquial team for gossip) on a number of other menu items, including the fact that the carrot cake recipe she uses, was given to her by Garnell Hanna, with whom she worked in the financial sector when she was 16. It was also the first time Lightbourn tried crab and rice as well.
“I went to the company picnic … and I remember I was 16 — I’m a Bahamian, but my mother never cooked crab and rice, it was the first time I had crab and rice and I loved it. And I love it to this day. And the second thing was the carrot cake, and I said who made this? It was Garnell Hanna who worked at the bank, and so I asked Garnell if she would share her recipe with me, and she said ‘Yes, Julie, no problem.’ So that is Garnell Hanna’s recipe that I’ve been making all these years. So there is a lot of history and stories behind all of the recipes. A lot of “sip sip” has gone into Sip Sip.”
Lighbourn says the jerk seasoning they make comes form an old recipe also given to her by a friend many years ago.
With the opening of Sip Sip at The Cove, she said she’s super excited that an out island business has been brought to Paradise Island and the result has meant a trickle down effect is happening. She has met the Brown fishermen, Allen and Mark Brown, who supply magnificent grouper for her use. She’s also bringing in produce from Eluethera — arugula from Fine Threads, a taxi driver, who grows the green as well as herbs and giant heirloom tomatoes.
One week into service at Sip Sip The Cove, Lightbourn says the space, which flanks the Lulu DK re-designed Cove Pool is beautiful. She was also delighted that Atlantis built a deck that is a replica of the Sip Sip Harbour Island deck, that overlooks the sea and the resort’s signature cove.
The décor is just as vibrant as the island outpost restaurant. And is done up in their signature, orange blue, and what Lightbourn terms her Sip Sip green.
Sip Sip at The Cove also features carved tiki heads from Eleutheran Mike Johnson. He carves faces into buoys that float up on the beach and they have them displayed at the bar at Sip Sip Harbour Island. Johnson made two giants ones for The Cove — one is a dreadlocked guy, and the other is a player with a big cigar.
“I’m happy the way it’s all turned out,” said Lightbourn.
“I always dreamed about having a restaurant on another island. We have Harbour Island, we’ve been there for 15 years and then I was approached by The Cove to come and join them here on Paradise Island, so it’s truly a dream come true.”