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Eat It and Like It: Giving thanks for Savannah’s culinary triumphs

  • Chef Mashama Bailey at The Grey, which was named Restaurant of the Year by Eater. (Photo courtesy thegreyrestaurant.com)
  • Food Network’s “Chef of Love” Jernard Wells and fans at Taste of Savannah. (Spotted photo by Shelly Mobley)
  • East End Provisions grand opening (Spotted photo by Bunny Ware)
 

Eat It and Like It: Giving thanks for Savannah’s culinary triumphs

21 Nov 2017

The leaves may not truly evolve into the kinds of shades that evoke feelings of warmth and good cheer around here, but that doesn’t mean Thanksgiving Day doesn’t mark the dropping of a green flag on a full season of reflection, peace, love and happiness.

When I considered what I would share with you in this space this week, it gave me pause, frankly. The more I thought about what I wanted to talk about, the more great news just piled up in my pea brain. It’s a good time to take a great taste of Savannah. Have you noticed? Most people don’t. But if you will indulge me for a New York minute, I’ll explain.

Consider, if you will, the great news coming out of the Savannah Food & Wine Festival. In only its fifth year, the entire week of events sold out. Big tickets, small tickets, all tickets. Everything was sold. Savannah’s largest celebration of food, Taste of Savannah at the Georgia State Railroad Museum, was sold out more than 48 hours in advance.

Two things about that jumped out at me last week. I have mentioned this here before, but a majority of people attending the festival are coming from out of town. An informal survey of my own at Taste of Savanah revealed visitors from Louisiana, Colorado, New Mexico and New Jersey (don’t know what exit). Everyone I questioned told me they had come to Savannah specifically for the Food & Wine Festival. I’ll leave the tourism talk to the exceptional staff at Visit Savannah, but allow me to wave my hand and say, “Hey y’all, we’ve got a happening over here!”

The part of that whole thing, frankly, that fascinates me the most? Savannah hasn’t even really developed anything close to what it will be culinarily in the next few years. Great restaurants are opening all of the time, with many more in the planning stages.

Have you seen the inside of Prohibition Savannah yet? How about East End Provisions? Do we remember what the block of 33rd and Bull streets looked like a few years ago? Before Bull Street Taco and Woof Gang Bakery’s doggie party palace opened there?

Consider the fact that Chef Mashama Bailey and The Grey were just named Restaurant of the Year by Eater, a national food-centric website. Pause for a second and give that some thought. Restaurant of the Year. In the United States.

Columnist Bill Addison called it “The Triumph of The Grey” — which says so much about the hard work Chef Mashama, John O. Morisano and their crew have put in — but you can’t discount how much it also translates to a triumph for Savannah. Or do we need to remind you what that block on MLK looked like before an old forgotten bus station became one of the most beautiful restaurants in the South?

For the record, I am told Addison visited The Grey recently, ordered almost everything on the menu, then returned the next night and did it all again. Bravo to everyone involved.

I just had the pleasure of attending some events for Music to Your Mouth, an annual uber-exclusive food and music festival at nearby Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton. The scene is exceptional, and the list of chefs that attend it equally so. High-end tickets and lower-end tickets are available, and it’s tough to beat a waterfront food truck party featuring the smooth flow jams from Yacht Rock Revue. Seriously — 25 minutes from the top of the Talmadge Bridge.

Huge shout-out to Chef Brandon Carter at FARM Bluffton. He’s one of the best in the area. If you haven’t visited them, you should.

It’s not just the high-end food downtown, either. The smaller eateries are filling in the gaps all over town. Multiple sandwich shops have either come on to the scene or are in the works. These are people not just looking for the lowest common denominator in order to turn a profit, either. There’s a New York-style Italian deli coming to Sandfly that may turn some heads next year.

The only issue we can (and many already are) pointing to when it comes to all of this growth is an inability to staff these spots the way they’d like to. There isn’t a current restaurant owner out there who won’t tell you it’s tough to find great help. Tough sledding out there.

My wife works for the Savannah Chatham County school system. Just this week she asked me if I had seen any visuals from the new hospitality training rooms at Woodville Tompkins Technical and Career High School. I’m told the rooms are gorgeous. That project is backed by Savannah native Richard Kessler, owner of The Mansion on Forsyth Park and The Bohemian Hotel. The effort to stock the hospitality cupboard has been underway for a while. This latest effort (and hopefully others like it) is sorely needed.

I beat this drum with great regularity. It’s a good thing I am able to, because it pays the bills. Still, I regularly talk to people who are genuinely excited about the happenings not only in Savannah but also the surrounding area, even if they don’t keep close tabs on every restaurant opening, closing, new menu chef or more. Enthusiasm is always appreciated and I am seeing a ton of it everywhere I go.

We are regularly compared to Charleston. I hear that all of the time. But what we are seeing now in this area isn’t about trying to catch anyone. It’s about watching our community do everything we can to be the best Savannah we can be while we continue to grow our appeal as a worldwide destination. Who would complain about that?

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Jesse

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