I'm chatting over dinner with the owner of a major catering company in Savannah when he says, "The wedding business is booming in this town."
He went on to say that from a catering perspective, a lot of people have more business than they know what to do with. There is one particular Saturday coming up in the next few months where his company has more proposals out for that day than they ever had before, and if those contracts come in, he'll have to bring in help from a lot of different places to handle the demand.
That's a pretty amazing testimonial, but we will get to weddings and catering another time. I share that part of the story for a simple reason.
Two days later, I found myself at the open house grand opening of Cohen's Retreat. You may ask, "What is this retreat you speak of?"
Well, I'll save you the history lesson because it has been around for a while, but what do I think it is now? It very well could become one of the most popular event venues this city has seen in a long, long time.
The building has been converted into, as they call it, "Art. Food. Community."
That is the best way to describe it. On the one side are rooms best described as artist lofts decorated impeccably by local designers selling their wares.
There wasn't one that I didn't walk by and say, "Uh â€¦ That is absolutely beautiful." Even if it wasn't my style, I respected the fact that the dÃ©cor was beautiful and very, very well done.
My department is the food, and what a treat that was. I immediately made my way to the back, where a smallish and again beautifully decorated dining room sat. That's where I knew I'd find Brian. Bingo.
Brian Torres is one of the masterminds behind FORM, the "gourmet to go" shop on Habersham Street and before that the very popular EOS.
There, he was pouring wine and greeting a packed house. The hors d'oeuvres that surrounded the room were divine. From the Italian sausage stuffed mushrooms to the 16-hour roasted pork sliders, it was all the kind of food that will make you say, "OK â€¦ One and I'm done."
Only 10 minutes later, to reach back and say, "Oh, well maybe one more."
I had several conversations with Brian over the better part of the last year about this new space. A space he was going to call "Form to Table."
Clearly he was excited not only about getting back into the true restaurant business, but he was excited for Savannah. He kept telling me Cohen's Retreat was revolutionary. It was forward thinking. It was going to be great. I certainly had no reason not to believe him, but once I saw the space, it all clicked. He was right.
The main dining room of his restaurant will feel like a trendy restaurant anywhere in the South. The food will be good; the wine will be fine. If there is anything I have learned about Brian and his guys, it's that they can show you a great time, pour you some surprisingly good wines and you'll leave there full, happy and not feeling like someone grabbed you by your ankles and shook every last dime out of your pockets.
More on that in second.
Across the way, a couple of rooms over was another buddy of mine, Kirk Blaine, executive chef at Driftaway CafÃ©. He was working a room he told me would be a makeshift kitchen for big events: Wedding receptions, parties, whatever.
He was firing out hors d'oeuvres like nobody's business; seafood bites, it seemed like.
During a short chat, he shared the fact that the big room just behind us is going to be marketed as a venue for wedding receptions, corporate events and all kinds of things like that. This building was already a powerhouse, and at that point, I hadn't seen it all yet. A short walk through the main banquet room and you immediately see it.
In Savannah, you strip a building down to its brick walls, paint the pipes a perfect black and call it "charm." That's what they did and what they've got, frankly, is fantastic.
Much like Bethesda's Whitefield Chapel draws brides to that beautiful spot to get married, Cohen's Retreat is poised to become a great spot for a reception without coming all the way back downtown. It was not lost on me that the majority of the crowd at the open house was from Isle of Hope, The Landings and Dutch Island.
Form to Table will be opening soon. They are waiting on the city to give them the go-ahead (go ahead and set your sun dial now).
But once they get off the ground, it's going to be fantastic. I have no doubt. Personally, I can't wait to throw a party there.
I most definitely will.
You should, too.
Go give them a look. There will be coffee service during the day, great food by night.
Eventually, it's going to become a hub for all things creative and delicious. Who could argue with that?
See you on TV, Jesse