Midnight in the Garden of Tasty and Delicious: The Best Things to Eat in Savannah, Georgia
Savannah has raised the dining bar, challenging Charleston in many ways, but deciding where to eat (and once there, what to eat) can be overwhelming. Here's a guide to some of the best places and dishes to be found in this Southern charmer.
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Afternoon Tea: Gryphon
Located on Madison Square in the architecturally rich 1926 Scottish Rite Masonic Temple — which served as Solomon's Drugstore for more than 70 years — Gryphon harks back to another era with its white tablecloths, carved mahogany bookcases and original mortar and pestle stained-glass panels. Now the premier cafe of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Gryphon serves traditional afternoon tea every day for a true Savannah respite. Featuring a pot of tea — you can choose from 10 varieties daily plus a flavor of the day — along with a selection of tea sandwiches, scones with housemade Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, fresh fruit and an assortment of freshly made tea sweets, it is a fitting taste of Southern hospitality.
Retro Dining (at the Greyhound Station): The Grey
The Grey's refurbished 1938 art deco Greyhound bus-terminal setting — diner car included — and its vintage take on updated "Southern eats" give a whole new meaning to retro. With this place that opened in 2014, chef-partner and 2018 James Beard Award nominee Mashama Bailey and hospitable front-of-the-house founding partner Johno Morisano bring local fare and friendly flair to Savannah's burgeoning dining scene. Southern twists abound, including red pea pancakes with whipped lardo and pork jus; salted fish toast (pictured) with sweet potatoes, garlic, parsley and scallions; foie and grits with plum mostarda and red wine gravy; okra purloo with Carolina Gold rice, field peas and ham hocks; and their spin on Indian-meets-Southern-inspired Country Captain Chicken with curry, currants and almonds.
To Share: Atlantic
A neighborhood filling station from the 1930s to the 1960s, Atlantic is now a neighborhood eatery that conjures up a sense of sharing and camaraderie. Whether you're seated in the sleek dining room, at the community table at the bar or on the front or back patio, the menu is filled with tasty small plates — along with a few big plates — that are perfect for sharing. Begin with the beet carpaccio, sprinkled with pistachios, fried capers and a champagne vinaigrette. Share the roasted shishito peppers in a butternut squash coulis. And revel in the ratatouille. But no matter what you do, don't miss the seared pork belly with a corn, field pea and miso compound-butter succotash. Trust us.
Fine Dining: Elizabeth on 37th
For fine dining, Savannah's grande dame since the early 1980s has been Elizabeth on 37th. It's set in a turn-of-the-century Georgian mansion filled with fireplaces, high ceilings, original paintings and ceramics, resulting in comfortable elegance. Guests are treated to a culinary experience of Savannah traditions with a contemporary flavor — with many of the vegetables and herbs coming from the restaurant's own garden. Start with a fresh mozzarella and local tomato salad with herb pecan pesto, balsamic and truffle oil, or local blue crab cake. The double-cut Berkshire pork chop with five-cheese macaroni and apple-cabbage slaw oozes decadence, and the potato-crusted American red snapper with Brussels sprout hash shows off the bounty of the region.
Brunch: The Collins Quarter
Brunch is big in Savannah, and there's no better place to see and be seen than at Australian-inspired The Collins Quarter. This ode to Melbourne's historic Collins Street pairs specialty coffees (the Lavender Mocha is to die for) and elegant cocktails (think bloodys, mimosas, bellinis, and rosés) with innovative and land-down-under-leaning cuisine. The Swine Time Beni is luscious brioche French toast topped with pulled pork, a poached egg, hollandaise and bacon. Leo's Big Breakfast is a bit heartier, with healthy portions of Italian sausage, bacon, eggs, baked beans, mushrooms and a grilled tomato. And the #Tag This Hash is a tasty mashup of braised pot roast, potato hash cakes, smashed avocado, a fried egg and chimichurri.
All-Day Dining: The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market
Part restaurant, part bistro, with a little takeaway, coffee shop and market in the mix — and open from early to late — The Emporium is the perfect spot for enjoying a tasty breakfast, a creative lunch or dinner, or a leisurely cocktail, or picking up dinner provisions or the perfect hostess gift, all under one eclectic roof. The menu features savory and sweet breakfast and brunch items, housemade charcuterie, the freshest fruits de mer (the roasted barbecue oysters with bourbon smoked jalapeno butter are not to be missed), spectacular seafood towers and French-leaning entrees (think croque madame, moules mariniere and coquilles Saint Jacques). Decadent desserts are available to go (as are prepared salads and made-to-order sandwiches), along with an impressive wine selection.
Family Meal: Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
Lunch in Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is like a typical family meal in households across the South. Community tables of 10 are filled with family, friends and strangers, and close to two dozen shareable platters and bowls filled with rotating Southern staples like fried chicken (sinful and, thankfully, available every day), beef stew, meat loaf, cornbread dressing, candied yams, black-eyed peas, okra and tomatoes, butter beans, mashed potatoes, pickled beets, collard greens — you get the idea. To make it feel even more like home, it's first-come-first-served. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. sharp, you clear your own dishes and they only take cash.
Baked with Love: Back in the Day Bakery
With its sweet smells of freshly baked confections or its warm ambiance created by whitewashed walls and retro decor (think vintage mixers, flour canisters and antique pendant chandeliers), this place will make you feel like you've traveled back in time to your childhood. A magical display case bursts with rainbow colors of cupcakes, pies, cookies, bars and brownies. But those in the know come for the savory side of the menu as well. Morning people flock here for the tarts, quiches and the Sunny Day Biscuit with egg frittata, bacon and housemade seasonal jam. The flaky layers in the all-butter buttermilk biscuits make it the bakery's top seller. And don't even get us started on the piquant breads and creative sandwich fillings.
Island Eats: The Deck Beach Bar and Kitchen
Oceanfront dining is less than 20 miles away on Savannah's Tybee Island, and The Deck — nestled within the dunes — offers up killer views and a classic beachfront vibe. It's all about the seafood here, whether you're dining inside (plenty of windows bring in the ocean breeze) or out on the deck. Start with the crab cakes, served up with charred-pineapple chutney and arugula. Fave entrees include Buffalo shrimp tacos with cilantro slaw and blue cheese crema, and the massive seafood platter, which serves two to three people. It includes beer-battered tempura cod, grilled shrimp, fried calamari, snow crab legs, ahi tuna poke, corn on the cob, malt vinegar fries, sweet potato fries and island slaw, so you'd better come hungry.
Sweet Spot: Lulu's Chocolate Bar
Devoted to scratch-made desserts and creative cocktails, Lulu's Chocolate Bar is definitely on the "Why didn't I think of that?" list. Start at the bar (daily happy hour until 7 p.m.) and enjoy one of the 20 different martinis — many of which feature chocolate, like the Lulutini or the Milky Way — or a chocolate beer or deep ruby-red wine. Then move on to dessert with a savory cheese board or a sweet treat like Lulu's strawberry suspension cake, white chocolate chip cheesecake, triple chocolate mousse served on a disc of pure chocolate with a chocolate sauce bath, or the Big Cookie (pictured), a giant, delicious mini-dark-chocolate chip cookie that's cut into a pie wedge, heated and served with vanilla ice cream.
Date Night: 700 Drayton
What better way to celebrate date night than with a romantic table for two at 700 Drayton in The Kessler Collection's Mansion on Forsyth Park? The stunning ambiance is filled with world-class artwork, fireplaces and original wood flooring and trim in a historic 1888 mansion overlooking the park. The evening menu focuses on simply prepared regional specialties, fish and chophouse steaks. Enjoy a magical tete-a-tete with several shareable plates like the Hunter's Board with soppressata, truffle chicken mousse, speck, goat and Cambozola cheeses and lingonberry jam, or the Southbound Lager beer mussels (pictured), dressed in butter, Fresno peppers, onions and fennel and served with a warm baguette. Add to the romance with a cooking class in the 700 Kitchen Cooking School.
Oh So Savannah: The Olde Pink House
Legend has it that the cotton-candy-pink exterior of this aptly named restaurant resulted from the deep red of the original bricks bleeding through the white stucco. Be that truth or fiction, it's a fact that this 1771 Georgian mansion is the perfect setting for a romantic dining experience whether you're situated in one of the ornate dining rooms filled with heart-pine planks, crystal chandeliers and fireplaces, or in the more intimate and casual tavern downstairs. The menu features oh-so-Savannah gussied-up sauteed local shrimp with country ham gravy and cheddar cheese grit cakes, a fall-off-the-bone braised pork shank with macaroni and cheese plus collards, and a whole fried flounder — all of it will make you think you've died and gone to Southern heaven.
Pizza: Green Fire Pizza
Hoping to fill a void of true big-city pizza, father and son Russell and Parker Lee found the sweet spot with Green Fire Pizza. Using an 800-degree wood-fired pizza oven imported from Italy, they are cooking up perfectly charred Old World Neapolitan-style pizza with a thin and crunchy — yet still slightly doughy — crust filled with local and organic ingredients. Available by the slice or the pie, the classic margherita sets the bar with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, garlic and locally grown Genovese basil. But don't overlook the Lemon Chicken Cheddar pizza or the famous Giardino, with Calabrian chile pesto, broccolini, cherry tomatoes and sausage. Or create your own with more than two dozen out-of-the-(pizza)-box toppings.
You Scream, We All Scream: Leopold's Ice Cream
Forming lines that often snake down the block, people flock to this throwback ice cream parlor, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019. Founded by three brothers from Greece and now run by descendants of that original family, this spot serves up its legendary hand-crafted ice cream in two dozen classic flavors (including the original 1919 Tutti Fruitti — rum ice cream with candied fruit and fresh-roasted Georgia pecans), rotating seasonal flavors like Japanese Cherry Blossom and Pumpkin Spice, decadent banana splits (pictured), overstuffed sundaes, ice cream sandwiches on scratch-made cookies, milkshakes, ice cream sodas, floats and specialty hot beverages. Many of the ice cream ingredients and toppings are prepared in-house, as are the sandwiches and signature salads.
The New South: Husk
New on the scene in 2018, but a sister to outposts in Charleston, Greenville and Nashville, Husk pays homage to the indigenous ingredients and heirloom products of coastal Georgia. Located in the heart of the historic district, it has a Southern-inspired menu that highlights local and regional ingredients and farmers, and changes daily, based on seasonality and availability. Dishes like country ham biscuits with purple ribbon cane syrup from Sapelo Island, sassafras-glazed pork ribs with pickled Georgia peaches and butter beans, and Georgia shrimp and grits with tomato and sweet corn celebrate the region's bounty while striving to refine Savannah cooking and changing the way we look at Southern cuisine.
Soul Food: Narobia's Grits & Gravy
With a true Savannahian take on soul food, Narobia's lifts grits and gravy to another level. Heaping servings of grits come with varied gravy combinations, including shrimp, sausage (beef or turkey), lamb with green peppers, onions and mushrooms, or the tasty crab stew loaded with succulent shrimp, crabmeat, green peppers, onions and just the perfect amount of spice. Or, simply get the brown gravy with liver and onions, fried flounder, a salmon patty or a rib eye on top. All breakfast plates come with two eggs any way you'd like them, plus toast or a butter-kissed biscuit. If grits aren't your thing, substitute hash browns or french fries, or try the sausage gravy over biscuits.
Mexican: Tequila's Town
Sure, there are some great taco shops in Savannah. But Tequila's Town is where you want to go for an authentic Mexican experience. Owned and operated by a group of Mexican "compadres," this place has a legit menu filled with genuine Mexican recipes and Tex-Mex favorites like the Piggy Burritos filled with shredded pork carnitas and topped with queso dip and pico de gallo. Start with the tableside made-to-order guacamole — you get to pick your ingredients and your heat level — served up in a lava-rock molcajete. The street tacos won't disappoint, and you can mix and match from 10 tasty selections. Wash it all down with the restaurant's own house-branded tequila, Tequila Blanco, in a margarita or tequila cocktail.
Breakfast: Clary's Cafe
What's better than a classic diner-style breakfast? A classic diner-style breakfast joint that serves breakfast all day. Clary's Cafe has been serving it up all day every day since 1903, and locals swear by it. Naturally, this spot offers eggs in all styles and lots of omelets, all served with buttered grits or breakfast potatoes and toast or biscuits. But then there are eggs Benedict (try the crab cake), French toast (get it stuffed with strawberries and cream) and Georgia pecan pancakes. And don't miss the specials like the famous freshly made corned beef hash (they make their own whole corned-beef briskets in the back) or the Hoppel Poppel (scrambled eggs with salami, potatoes, onion and green pepper).
Barbecue: B's Cracklin' BBQ
Ask anyone in town where to get some classic Southern barbecue and most folks will point you in the direction of B's Cracklin' BBQ. Bryan Furman and his wife Nikki are smokin' up whole heritage-breed hogs they raise themselves and putting out plates of pulled pork, brisket, ribs and chicken that have folks calling Furman Georgia's new king of barbecue. With a unique sauce that's part Carolina tangy mustard and part sweet Georgia peaches, he cooks everything the old-fashioned way — low and slow over wood. Add in sides that he learned from his momma, like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, BBQ beans, and hash and rice, and you've got the South in your mouth.
Burger: Crystal Beer Parlor
Situated in what was once the Gerken Family Grocery Store, "The Crystal" opened in 1933 and is reputed to have been one of the first restaurants to serve alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition. Enjoy your choice of more than 85 beers — including a selection of "Beers of Our Fathers" (hard-to-find time-honored beers) and a host of burgers, including an au poivre burger, Greek lamb burger, meatloaf burger, bison burger, the classic griddled half-pound Crystal Burger, which has been on the menu for 80-plus years, and the N.O.G.S. (North of Gaston Street) burger with bacon, balsamic-marinated sauteed portobello mushrooms, Brie and fresh spinach. Splurge on the onion rings, which are always freshly prepared and fried to order.
Ethnic: Rancho Alegre Cuban
Savannah's restaurant scene includes plenty of typical ethnic genres, but for a truly colorful cultural take, taste a slice of Havana (and more) at Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant, where the focus is on Cuban, Caribbean and Spanish dishes. Start with a cool Cuba libre or mojito with appetizers like chicharittas (plantain chips) with mojo sauce, papa rellena (potato ball stuffed with ground beef) or croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes). Then go big with lechon asado (roasted and shredded pork), slow-cooked stovetop paella Valenciana or the national dish of Cuba, ropa vieja (slow roasted shredded beef in a Creole sauce), all served with yellow rice, black beans and sweet fried plantains. There's live Latin jazz on the weekends.