Great Food - Sweet Savannah
If y’all are looking for a quintessential Southern foodie experience with nearly 300 years of history and hauntings thrown in, Savannah, Georgia, should be on your mind...
Savannah is arguably America’s most beautiful city centre and the entire downtown area is a National Historic Landmark District, the largest in the US. What makes Savannah unique is its 22 squares, and no visit would be complete without strolling around them. Enjoy the oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss, mansions dating to the 1700s and historic churches, like the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, a top 10 landmark site in the US according to TripAdvisor. When gourmets think of Southern food towns, Charleston, South Carolina, two hours north, gets all the glory, but Savannah is trying to grab a piece of the culinary pie. Admittedly, it’s been an upward road according to local food TV celebrity Jesse Blanco of Eat it and Like It. “The majority of tourists still want good old Southern food,” says Blanco. “But there are a lot of creative things here that go beyond fried green tomatoes.” The astronomic rents in the historic district have kept independent chefs away, and for years the food scene was geared to the palate of rural Southerners who vacationed here. It’s the influx of New Yorkers and Bostonians, thanks to new direct flights, that is causing Savannah cuisine to elevate. “There is far more of a food culture here than five years ago,” explains Blanco. “There are a lot of outside investors eyeballing this city as a place to open new restaurants.”
SOUTHERN COOKING. However, when you’re coming to the South, you definitely need to experience traditional Southern cooking and the place to do that is Mrs Wilkes Dining Room for lunch. The line starts an hour or more before opening, but don’t worry, according to Blanco by the time the doors open you will have new friends to dine with at the communal tables. Feast on fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, biscuits and more. Georgia is quickly becoming known for barbeque and to get the best in the area you’ll have to jump in your car or get a taxi over to Wiley’s Championship BBQ. Wiley and his wife Janet are still in the joint each day, and once you start them talking about BBQ you’ll feel like you’ve learned enough to be a pit master by the end of the meal. I opted for chicken marinated and smoked with hickory, with a side of sweet potato and collards (greens). There are several different sauces for your meat, but if you don’t go with the Better than Sex sauce, you’re missing out! Save room for the banana pudding, which Janet makes daily from scratch.
HEAVENLY ICE CREAM. Another sweet treat you must try is Leopold’s ice cream, an institution in the city since 1919. The Tutti-Frutti (think fruit cake ice cream) is the signature flavour, but I must admit that I preferred the Honey, Almond & Cream, made with Savannah Bee honey. For traditional Southern fine dining, the Olde Pink House is iconic and the top table for romantic dining in town. Housed in a 1771 mansion, patrons and workers claim to have seen the ghost of the former owner, James Habersham Jr, who supposedly hanged himself in the basement in 1799. The building survived several fires, and the heat from those fires continued to make the brick bleed through the stucco until finally it was simply painted pink to solve the issue.
NEW CUISINE. Once your appetite for the traditional has been satiated, it’s time to try new Savannah cuisine and the hottest table in town is The Grey. Housed in a restored Greyhound bus terminal, the restaurant’s James Beard Award winning décor pays homage to its bus depot past. For a fun time, sit at the dining room bar and let Scott use homemade bitters to concoct a drink like the Improved Whiskey Cocktail to start the evening off. The best thing on the menu that my dinner date and I sampled was the fish tagine, boasting perfectly done swordfish over a bed of chickpeas and bell peppers. The Florence, by Top Chef Master (a bit like the UK’s MasterChef) winner Hugh Acheson, is slightly outside of downtown but worth the ride to see how Italian food can be done with Southern ingredients. According to Blanco, the personal pizzas are the best in the city. Bridging the gap between old and new is Alligator Soul. As the name suggests, here you can sample gator either in fritter or gumbo form, along with a wide range of other exotic proteins.
CHOCOLATE DELIGHTS. If Leopold’s doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, head to Bull Street to sample Chocolat by Adam Turoni. The whimsical store is literally a library of chocolate that is a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Willy Wonka. In 2016, a leading industry publication named Turoni as one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the country, so you really must pop by. Try the Exploding Truffle, a decadent dark chocolate truffle with a centre of pop rocks that wakes up the senses with a play of flavours and fizzy sensations.
SPOOKY CITY. One of the best ways to work off all this food is with a ghost tour. MSN called Savannah one of the ten spookiest cities in the world and The American Institute of Parapsychology named it America’s most haunted city. Because our group is very small, our guide Jan is able to take us to the Hampton Lillibridge house, called the most haunted home in America. A 1960’s exorcism failed, so today you might hear music or see images in the windows. As we walk, Jan talks about the voodoo culture in the city and explains all the ‘haint’ paint on doors, windows and ceilings seen around town. Haint is an old southern term for haunt and haint paint is blue, designed to mimic water because folk wisdom has it that spirits can’t cross water and the blue paint fools them. A bit further on the walk we learn about Anna, a 1790’s maid who threw herself from her bedroom window after a romance gone wrong. Apparently, she haunts the 17hundred90 Inn on President St. Today any guests who want to stay in her room must sign a waiver promising they won’t request a new room if Anna appears.
HOP-ON TROLLEYS. To achieve an overview of Savannah’s history do a daytime tour on one of the many hop-on, hop-off trolleys downtown. Along the way you can visit the Owens-Thomas House, one of the finest examples of English Regency style in America. You can also see one of the most technically advanced houses of its time, the Davenport Mansion, which kicked off the city’s preservation efforts in the 1950s and is the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (founder of the Girl Scouts). Visitors to Savannah have the opportunity to experience history that goes back to the time of the American Colonies, whilst sampling traditional Southern eats and eateries. Head here and you’ll experience a new food revival in this 283-year-old city that is setting a new tone for the 21st century.
Getting There: Fly into a hub like Atlanta or Charlotte from the UK and then connect to the Savannah/Hilton Head Airport.
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. Note that no credit cards are accepted and the restaurant is closed in January. http://mrswilkes.com/
Wiley’s Championship BBQ http://wileyschampionshipbbq.com/
The Grey http://thegreyrestaurant.com/
The Florence http://theflorencesavannah.com/home/
Alligator Soul http://alligatorsoul.com/
Chocolat by Adam Turoni www.chocolatat.com
Ghost Talk Ghost Walk http://ghosttalkghostwalk.com/index.html
Old Savannah Trolley Tours: http://www.oldsavannahtours.com/
Owens Thomas House http://www.telfair.org/visit/owens-thomas/
The Davenport House http://www.davenporthousemuseum.org/
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace: http://www.juliettegordonlowbirthplace.org/
Classic Savannah mansion B&B: http://dresserpalmerhouse.com/
Kehoe Inn: This is where Tom Hanks stayed when he filmed Forest Gump in the city http://www.kehoehouse.com/
Hamilton Turner Inn: http://www.hamilton-turnerinn.com/Hamilton-Turner-Inn
The Brice: http://www.bricehotel.com/
Savannah Golf Club, The first golf course in America, http://www.thesavannahgolfclub.com/
The Club at Savannah Harbor
Extend Your Stay:
Jekyll Island Golf (Jan/Feb 2016 issue)
Sea Island Golf (Winter, 2015 issue)