With its rich gumbo of influences — from Lowcountry Gullah (descendants of African slaves) to waves of Irish, Scots, Germans and French — Savannah cuisine is much more than its deep-fried stereotypes, local icon Paula Deen notwithstanding. As the upscale farm-to-table movement blends with traditional soul food, the culinary scene is pushing boundaries yet again in Hostess City.
Take James Beard-award winning chef Sean Brock’s farm-to-table masterpiece, Husk Restaurant (elevator accessible), which puts an eclectic spin on local ingredients, such as Lowcountry shrimp and hominy with grilled mushrooms or his signature fried chicken skins (yes, please!). Or chef Mashama Bailey’s The Grey, which reinterprets traditional recipes, such as collard greens that are pecan wood-smoked instead of flavored with ham hocks, and grits that are served with — wait for it — foie.
Indeed, Savannah boasts enough iconic restaurants and dishes to compete with its spine-tingling ghosts. For breakfast, order a hefty bowl of smoked cheddar grits with bacon and jalapeno served with a fluffy homemade biscuit at J. Christopher’s. When your lunch growls are louder than the passing ships, trot over to B. Matthews Eatery for a classic fried green tomato sandwich (doused with special sauce), shrimp and grits, or okra succotash spring rolls with tomato and ancho pepper purée.
Food comes hot and steamy on the communal tables at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. When the dinner bell rings, say grace and “pass the collards” … that would be collards, corn, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes and fried chicken. Don’t forget to leave room for peach cobbler. Or hold out for the nostalgic Leopold’s Ice Cream (since 1919), where your butter pecan cone will remind you why you love the South.
Check these Savannah must-bites off your list: crispy scored flounder in the 18th-century Georgian mansion, the Olde Pink House; crab cakes from Belford’s in City Market; barbecue ribs and pulled pork from Wyley’s Championship BBQ; she-crab stew (a menu staple since 1933) and onion rings from Crystal Beer Parlor, Savannah’s oldest restaurant; and the famous fried chicken fingers at Spanky’s on River Street.
Ways to save: Visit the Olde Pink House in the late afternoon and order drinks and appetizers in the Planters Tavern for a less costly bill. Savannah Restaurant Week is the last week in January through the first week in February, when participating restaurants lower their rates.
For top restaurants, it is best to make dinner reservations before your visit, or eat at less popular times of the day, such as lunch around 3 p.m. and dinner at 9:30 or 10 p.m.