Not too far away from the locally sourced masterpieces or fancy cocktails you can find in downtown Savannah these days was probably the biggest food-related story of the year around these parts. I say food-related because the magnitude of the story had little to do with anyone eating and liking anything so much as it had to do with the place where they were doing said eating and liking.
Of course, I am referring to the closing and eventual demolition of Johnny Harris Restaurant on Victory Drive.
The rumors started early this year with word that the landmark was going to close. I heard them all. Of course I heard them all. Everything from someone in the family is going to take over and keep it as is all the way down to what eventually happened. The family was shutting down and tearing down what was there in order to preserve the building's legacy.
Down the street, meanwhile, a member of the family - a resident of the Johnny Harris family tree, if you will - was going to open a spin-off of sorts. And Johnny Harris Restaurant would live on somehow in some other incarnation. In fact, as recently has this week at a holiday gathering, I had someone tell me they had heard there was a Johnny Harris spin-off somewhere on Savannah's Southside. The truth, as it does most times, lies somewhere in between.
Corbin Parker is the bowtie-clad young man wandering around BowTie Barbecue Co., 6724 Waters Ave. His great-grandfather "Red" Donaldson bought Johnny Harris in 1942. Corbin spent a lot of his youth working in that kitchen. He also learned the food and beverage industry working at any of the family's 10 or so Wendy's restaurants across south Georgia, stretching all the way to Valdosta. It's where he started wearing a bowtie.
"Regular ties just seemed to get in the way of everything I was doing," Corbin tells me. "So I just started wearing the bowties."
Ultimately, Corbin wanted to make beer. He moved to Asheville, N.C., which is considered by many the craft brew capital of the South.
"I didn't care what I did, I just wanted to get a job in a brewery," he says. That plan didn't go exactly like he had hoped. He did get a job at a brewery, and found himself paying a lot dues in the business. It's when he started considering opening a barbecue spot, likely back in his hometown of Savannah.
Fast-forward through all of the noise during 2016 and ill-fated social media attempts to "Save Johnny Harris" and you had a young man quietly planning to do his own thing. BowTie Barbecue Co. was the plan all along, and it really had nothing at all to do with what was - or wasn't - going down on Victory Drive.
"We have the Batterless Fried Chicken on the menu," Corbin tells me, "and we have an updated version of the 1924 salad."
That's about all you will find at BowTie other than the famous Johnny Harris barbecue sauce, which is still produced locally.
What you won't find at BowTie are any gratuitous claims or ties to what his family did for so many years on Victory Drive. No, it isn't called "Johnny Harris' Batterless Fried Chicken." In fact, there is no mention of it anywhere on the menu or in the building. None.
Corbin is determined to make his own name for himself. His own recipes, his own barbecue, his own cocktail program. The latter of which might be the star of the show at BowTie.
The renovation at the old Smokehouse BBQ was thorough. Moving the bar outside created a high-end patio feel. There are TVs everywhere out there and there are more bourbons than you can count.
"People come in here all the time and say they feel like they are downtown," Corbin says.
Yes, indeed. Some thought went into this space and they've done a very nice job with the build out.
The food is good. I don't think it is going win any statewide championships, but Corbin will be the first to tell you he is just getting started. He is using Savannah River Farms exclusively for his pork product and is putting a ton of time and attention into his sauces, which include the BowTie Original (tomato and vinegar), Habanero Honey Mustard (fantastic), Hoppin' Hickory (made with Savannah's Southbound IPA) and Sweet and Roasty (made with Savannah's PERC Coffee).
I enjoyed my lunch there. Mac and cheese made with farfalle, better known as bowtie pasta (see what he did there?) combined with a nice family atmosphere and a great indoor/outdoor area to watch the ballgames this holiday season.
BowTie has only been open a few months, but the word is out in the neighborhood. Weekend dinners, you will very likely wait for a table.
Down the road, Corbin sees himself possibly expanding the concept. Maybe another location somewhere, maybe a brewery attached. Yes, he still has that itch.
"I brew at home all the time," he says.
For now, none of that is important. A fresh start in Savannah at year's end, with a tiny tip of the hat to what once was.
See you on TV,