We all know - and if you don't, you should - that quite possibly the No. 1 thing people are looking to eat and like when they come to Savannah is seafood.
The lines outside of Mrs. Wilkes in the blistering summer sun might say otherwise, but we can obviously chalk that up to the fact that the boarding house is only open for lunch Monday through Friday. With food that good, there will be a back-up down the block. That line remains astounding, but I digress. Back to the seafood.
A half a handful of years ago, when the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Champions Tour made the unpopular decision to pack up and leave Savannah, our spring calendar was left with a bit of a void. The tournament had become the second half of a great two weeks of golfing fun in our area. Those of us who have been over to the Sea Pines Resort for the RBC Heritage know it is a good time, even if you don't like golf.
The idea was to extend that good cheer on the links to Savannah. It worked for a few years, but when the guy who owns the ball picks it up and leaves, well, that doesn't leave you with a whole lot of options.
The short-term solution was a seafood and jazz event during the late April weekend the golf tournament had occupied. Much like everything else they do at The Westin Savannah Harbor, the event was spectacular. It was beautiful. The setting, with our skyline in the background, was among the city's best. There was, however, one tiny problem. River Street's annual Seafood Fest was going on at the same time. Now, a lot of people will say you can never have too much seafood, but dueling seafood fests directly across the river from each other is a problem. It forces potential guests into a decision about which side they are going to enjoy.
Yes, the foods were very, very different, with The Westin event a little more upscale than the deep fryers you generally find on River Street, but the point was the same. You can't have two seafood festivals going on in Savannah at the same time and expect them to do well and grow. Spring is king around here, but we just weren't going to get the numbers everyone would need to be happy. Eyebrows were raised; discussions were had. I like to call it kerfuffle resolution, and we are all better for it.
The AquaCurean Gourmet Seafood & Spirits event at The Westin is now in its third year and still growing. The dates were moved down to the week before Labor Day.
The Savannah Craft Brew Fest was created to give Labor Day visits to Savannah a shot in the arm. It worked. The event has grown into a multi-day celebration of beer.
The week before, it's Savannah's best gourmet seafood extravaganza. If last year was any indication, then this year will be off the charts.
The festival extends for three days: Aug. 26-28. They call it a "resort takeover." Fitting actually, because last year guests wandered the grounds of the hotel tasting and sampling dishes from some of Savannah's best, as well as phenomenal culinary talents from across the South.
Twenty or so chefs fill out the roster this year. Some from our area, of course, and others from as far away as California and Miami. Chefs in those regions know a little about seafood. Atlanta will be represented by Craig Richards of St. Cecilia Restaurant in Buckhead, one of Ford Frye's celebrated properties in that city. I had the pleasure of visiting with Chef Craig a couple of weeks back and I can tell you he is more than excited about bringing his seafood skills to the coast. When I asked him if he had an idea of what he'd be preparing, he couldn't answer.
"I want whatever I bring with me to be as fresh as possible. I won't know until maybe two days before," he said.
Carl Ruiz will join us from New Jersey. Fans of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Tournament" may remember him. He is a former winner of that contest on Food Network.
Friday night is the celebrity chef dinner. Last year's scene, frankly, was a jaw-dropper. From the ice sculpture out front to the beer, wine and spirits inside, everything that night was perfect. Except - in my book - for that one guest who came to the Grand Ballroom wearing a ball cap. There's a time and a place, sir, and that wasn't it.
Dinner was exceptional, as chefs prepared dishes from all corners of our country. This year is being described as a Mediterranean feast.
Saturday's main event is all-you-care-to eat, drink, sample and taste anywhere in the hotel. Yes, for one price. Guests are invited to chat with chefs, distillers and brewers about their products and how they best pair seafood with any of them. When it comes to food in our city, there are few better ways to spend an afternoon at any point on the calendar. All of this, mind you, on the river. Outside if you like enjoying the breeze, or inside enjoying the air conditioning.
For a full list of the weekend's events and tickets, go to www.aquacurean.com.
Truth be told, the one thing that jumped out at me last year once the dust had settled was the fact that everyone involved, from chefs to event organizers, spared no expense in making this not only a great value for their guests, but a well-oiled machine that is being built to be a powerhouse of a seafood event for many years to come in Savannah. Yeah, it's that good. Make plans to join us. Some quick advice to skip the lines at the door: Buy your tickets early. You will eat it and like it.
See you on TV,