Dorothy’s chef and owner Daniel Auffenberg puts a very high priority on fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors, not much different from how his grandmother treated food.
But that’s about where the similarities between the menu at Dorothy’s Cocktail & Oyster Bar and what Dorothy herself would have cooked end.
Not originally from the area, the Auffenbergs — Daniel and his wife, Claire — learned about St. Simons Island after Daniel’s parents retired there.
At the same time, after having established himself as a chef, Daniel and Claire were looking to strike out on their own venture with an original restaurant. Dallas, where they lived at the time, was and is a very competitive market for new restaurants.
“Plus we’d always wanted to move to the coast, and the market was open and available,” Daniel Auffenberg says.
Dorothy’s opened in May 2021 after much thought and effort went into developing the business model — Asian-influenced American fare, a robust cocktail offering, and unmatched hospitality.
The menu covers everything from burgers to Szechuan noodles, scallion pancakes, Kushiyaki, and fried rice.
Auffenberg built a cooking career in the kitchens of New York, learned front-of-house management in Dallas, and even dabbled in restaurant real estate.
But when it came time to start his own business, Auffenberg drew from what he knew.
“My wife and I traveled to Asia a few times … on our honeymoon and a few times afterward,” he says. “When I was in New York, Asian food was something I would go venture out of my way for.”
It all seemed to fit. The market was drenched in Southern, French-inspired, Italian-inspired establishments, but Asian-inspired American was a fairly vacant niche when he opened last year.
“There are Asian restaurants in the area, but not many upscale dining options with that kind of cuisine,” Auffenberg says. “We kind of reverse-engineered our way into the cuisine.”
Bringing an Asian influence to the table allows a chef to add a maximum amount of flavor with minimal ingredients, he explained.
“A lot of the products that have been common throughout many Asian countries, specifically fermented products like oyster paste and fish sauces, that have a lot of umami flavor to them and allow you to pack that punch on a dish that would be very difficult to get without those ingredients,” Auffenberg says.
The restaurant’s signature hospitality came from his late grandmother, Dorothy, who passed away in 2011. Auffenberg says her style of homemaking and her demeanor as a host permeates his St. Simons Island restaurant.
“We don’t usually highlight her food at the restaurant, but her spirit of being a good host,” Auffenberg notes. “Her hospitality was unmatched with people I’ve met in my life, always making sure everything was made from scratch and there was enough food for everyone. She never spoke of anyone unless she had a kind word to say about them. She never spoke in anger.”
The Dorothy mentality can be felt in how customers are served, but also in how the kitchen and wait staff are treated, he adds.
That, along with the bar’s cocktail program, is among the restaurant’s main selling points.
“I think it’s unique to the area,” Auffenberg adds.
“We have a great bar staff that create incredible cocktails. We have a huge selection of rum and gins and bourbon, and we have the tools to play around with a lot of riffs on classics because they (the bartenders) have such a strong knowledge of classics and the skills to play around with new creations that are fun for the guests to experience.”