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Savannah: A Gastronomic Tour

March 17, 2010

Apparently I’m not able to stay in one place for very long, which I guess isn’t too surprising since Nate’s and my motto is “Have time off, will travel.”  Next month Nate and I are going to Spain, but we couldn’t wait that long  to pack up and go someplace fun.  We opted for Savannah because the food is awesome, it’s a beautiful city and we had friends we could stay with.  All important stuff to take into consideration when planning vacation destinations.

Now this isn’t a restaurant blog, primarily because Nate would hide in embarrassment if I took my camera to restaurants and started taking pictures right and left (I know this because he told me.  He was quite vehement about it, actually).  Plus, sometimes it’s easier to just enjoy food at a nice restaurant rather than having to think about what I’ll write about.  However, since Savannah has so many great restaurants (and some real duds), I thought I might give you some of my gastronomic impressions.  You should all go to Savannah at least once if you haven’t already, so hopefully this will actually be useful!

First up, we have Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, which is hands-down the best home-cooking dining experiences I’ve ever had in my life.  This restaurant is only open Monday through Friday from 11 am to 2 pm, which is a testament to how fantastic it is because what kind of restaurant is able to only be open 5 days a week, only for 3 hours at lunch, not serve alcohol and stay in business?  The most popular restaurant in the city, that’s what.  Would I suggest planning your vacation around this restaurant?  Yes.  I would take an extra day of vacation if it let me go to this restaurant (which is exactly what I did).  You sit at a table with 9 other people and you just pass the dishes around the table, and when you run out they bring you more.  I’ve never seen Nate happier.  Alas, all I had with me was my iphone, so here’s what you get:

On my plate you can see (moving clockwise from the very top) collards, black eyed peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, macaroni salad, barbecued ham, sautéed squash, butternut squash puree, macaroni and cheese, pineapple and marshmallow “salad,” and then in the middle there’s peas and noodles.  What you don’t see is biscuits (I ate 3.  They were that good.), cornbread, sweet tea, banana cream pie, and the 7 other dishes I couldn’t fit on my plate (including beef stew, okra salad, and sausage, among others).  I think I single-handedly ate a whole serving bowl of the mac and cheese.  My only complaint is that the banana cream pie isn’t all-you-can-eat too.  But I was so full at that point, it was probably for the best.

Next we have 45 Bistro.  We actually found out about this restaurant because our first day there we stepped into a pub to escape the pouring rain, and the guy sitting down the bar from us told us he was a chef there.  We decided to give it a try, and it was so good we went back the following night to get the dessert that we were too full to order the first night.  We ordered a “bento box” appetizer that was so large, I wasn’t even hungry after I ate my half of it (please excuse the bad lighting; once again, all I had was my iphone).

The bento box included seaweed salad with calamari, seared ahi tuna, tempura vegetables, and fried dumplings.  I had locally-caught pink snapper encrusted in quinoa with the best creamy spinach I’d ever tasted, and Nate had duck two ways (thighs confit and roasted breast).  The waiter told us about their desserts, and then something miraculous happened: Nate started pressuring me to get a dessert.  This has never happened before. EVER.  We went back the following night to try the dacquoise, which I am now planning on making for our next dinner party.

In Savannah the riverfront area is generally regarded to be one big tourist trap.  Particularly this time of year, when colleges and universities have spring break and Savannah is gearing up for the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the U.S.  It’s really kind of horrifying.  That being said, there are some hidden gems on River Street with great food.  It’s impossible to get a table at Vic’s On The River without reservations, but you can sit at the bar and they’ll serve you dinner there.  The oysters Rockefeller is so good, you’ll want another order, and they have the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever eaten.   Huey’s On The River is the place for brunch– there’s a healthy mix of tourists and locals, and the beignets are excellent.  I’ve never seen Nate eat so fast.  He kept mentioning wanting to get a sack of beignets to-go and I don’t think he was kidding…. Huey’s specialty is New Orleans-style food and decent prices and they don’t disappoint.

Now for the places that aren’t so great…. Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons is apparently terrible.  We didn’t go, but we were told numerous times that it’s a cafeteria-style tourist trap with mediocre food.  The word on the streets is that the tourists to go Paula Deen’s and the locals go to Mrs. Wilkes.  It seems like a number of restaurants rely on their name to draw people in rather than the actual quality of the food.

…. As is the case with our next restaurant on the “not-so-great” list: The Olde Pink House. This one actually pains me a little because the first time we went here about one and a half years ago we loved it.  But this time, not so much.  Their menu is enormous, which to me means that they don’t really specialize in anything (the exact opposite of 45 Bistro, which had like 6 entrees).  Not to mention that their dessert list can best be described as tired and pedestrian.  Pecan pie and flourless chocolate cake?  I make those on a semi-regular basis at home, and I can almost guarantee that mine taste better.  The food here is good, but not $30-an-entrée-good.

That right there is a picture of a taffy making machine.  As someone who loves candy, I thought this was pretty frickin’ cool.

These are not the only restaurants and cafes that we went to, but you’re probably tired of reading at this point!  If you are in need of more suggestions (lodging, cafes, etc) or have any questions about the restaurants I’ve mentioned, you can email me or leave a comment!

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