For those of us who follow along very closely in and around the Savannah restaurant scene, there were few stories last year that turned more heads than the announcement that Chef Lauren Teague had decided to move on from her spot at 22 Square inside the Andaz Hotel on Ellis Square.
Chef Lauren came in quietly and over time turned her space into the best hotel restaurant in the city. The concept was "Farm to Fork," and she executed it flawlessly. So much so, that we gave her an Eat It and Like It Foodie Award for her passion for locally sourced ingredients.
Chef Lauren had a great thing going at the Andaz, but ultimately, she moved on to Atlantic in Savannah's Victorian District, where she is drawing rave reviews.
As is always the case, one chef moves on and another moves in. Concepts many times are overhauled, menus get tweaked or worse and restaurants can go through an identity crisis if someone dozes off at the wheel. That hasn't happened at 22 Square.
I can tell you that, while it may have been just a taste of a number of different courses, their new chef, John Maffei, has no plans to come up short when compared to the successes of his predecessor. Our meal was outstanding.
Chef John came to Savannah from New York City, where he worked at a couple of different Andaz properties. He also paid a few dues at New York's St. Regis Hotel. You hear names like that and immediately question why someone with that kind of experience and talent would be here in little ol' Savannah.
"Have you seen a property tax bill in Long Island?" OK, fair enough.
Chef has been in Savannah since last summer, but everything at 22 Square has been quiet since the change in top chef. It usually is when new talent comes in. They examine the menu, costs and what they are going to do moving forward. All while finding time to continue dinner service and banquets for your property. For those people who think chefs show up two hours before dinner service and just start cooking, well â€¦ ask any of them if that is true, then let me know how hard they laugh later.
My favorite dish we enjoyed that night - and believe me they were all fantastic - were his scallops. Which I found incredibly ironic because I had always thought Andaz had the best scallops in town. They still might.
The set-up here? Perfectly seared scallops on a grapefruit brulee, baby watercress and a Champagne reduction. I could eat that dish every single day.
There is a pasta on the menu, and sometimes they add a pasta special. We got to try a squid ink spaghetti with a tiny bite of lobster claw. It was fantastic. The pork porterhouse with purple mashed potatoes and cherry peppers was fantastic as well. We didn't try it, but yes, he's got a big ol' ribeye on his menu as well. I can't imagine it not being out of this world.
The talent and the creativity is obvious. Recently for a special, he prepared a "peanut butter and jelly" seared duck breast with pomegranate compote, coconut and hazelnut butter. On another night, he served a tortilla crusted Mahi Mahi with cucumber pineapple salsa and charred spring onion nage. Don't know what a nage is? Neither did I until I started asking questions, got an answer and loved this dish even more.
Now I know a lot of people will look at some of the photos associated with this column and write it off as all that "fancy food" I like to talk about. The reality is, there is more of this kind of food in our city than a lot of people want to admit or accept. But 22 Square has something on its menu for everyone.
Their Savannah Restaurant Week menu will reflect that. Three courses for $30. The scallop dish I mentioned is on that menu, as is the pork and purple mash. For dessert, chef caught my eye with an espresso creme brulee. I haven't tried it but I think I may need to take a walk over there before Feb. 5 to do just that.
I get asked constantly about new restaurants. We talked all about that last week. Everyone wants to get in on the shiny new penny, but 22 Square is worth your time for a visit. It's just a new restaurant that's been around for a while.
I'm certain you will eat it and like it.
See you on TV,