"I cannot believe this. I am sitting here in tears. It has been an amazing year."
That was part of an email we received from Lori Collins, owner of Savannah Coffee Roasters, when we notified the winners of our 2018 Eat It and Like It Foodie Awards a couple of weeks ago. All winners were notified via email and the responses, quite frankly, were a little more emotional than we ever thought they would be. That got me to wondering about how much a restaurant owner and/or chef cares about being named "The Best" in their particular discipline. Clearly, it means a whole lot.
I have always subscribed to the notion that no one who works in food and beverage wakes up in the morning and tells themselves they cannot wait to get to work and screw up your lunch or dinner experience. Yes, there are some knuckleheads out there, but there are knuckleheads in every walk of life, including television. Make that, especially in television.
The fourth Foodie Awards party will take place May 6, poolside at The DeSoto Savannah hotel. (See the list of winners online with this column at dosavannah.com.)
As has been the case in years past, our 30-plus winners will gather, mingle, catch up with old friends and celebrate a year of success. It is without question one of our proudest moments of the year. Why? Well, that answer is pretty simple.
We take a tremendous amount of pride in being able to bring our food and beverage community out from the shadows. Yes, of course, social media gives everyone their own voice these days, but we believe what we set out to do years ago has resonated across this region. We spend the majority of our time trying to give the guys and gals that work 70-plus hours a week a platform. It is our biggest thrill. Being able to narrow down so much quality out there into a list of winners is tough, but also very satisfying.
There are three of us who do the naming of winners. In the past, our panel has reached as many as six people. That worked well, but we couldn't always count on having that many participate. So we narrowed it to three this year. Myself, of course, and two others who have agreed to remain anonymous. We believe there is true value in anonymous dining experiences which, when combined with my own, can give us a real feel for how well operations are going at a particular restaurant. It worked very well this year.
A couple of months ago I was looking at our list of winners for the first Foodie Awards back in 2014. It felt like I was looking at baby pictures. A perfect example was our winner for Best Brunch. That year it went to Aqua Star at The Westin, which remains an exceptional experience to this day. The only other true brunch on the map at the time, however, was B. Matthew's Eatery. Now there are probably six to seven rock-star options for brunch in Savannah.
The Collins Quarter changed the brunch game in this city when it opened in summer 2014. It was an instant hit and remains so today. There aren't too many places where you get such a quality combination of location, people watching, great coffees, wines and, of course, food. The corner of Bull and Oglethorpe has never been the same. That type of consistency requires tremendous dedication.
Of course, The Collins Quarter is far from the only spot in town to do things well. So many others do. Take your pick of any spot on our list of winners and not only are they doing what they do very well, but they are also very proud to be recognized. As well they should be, because our Foodie Awards are different. As has always been the case, they are never tied to advertising and they are never a popularity contest. They are our choices as the best. Might you disagree on a particular winner? Of course you might, but that's OK. No offense taken.
Kyle Jacovino, executive chef at 1540 Room inside The DeSoto, took to Instagram upon getting the news. "Thank you and a huge shout out to our team for working their tails off the past year," he wrote. "None of this would be possible if it wasn't for the collaborative effort of writers, brewers, baristas, bartenders, restaurant owners and chefs pushing the scene forward."
That comment summarized it all for us, really. We have always viewed the growth of the food scene in this area as a collaborative effort. You guys serve up the great food and drink and we will continue to beat the drum as loudly as we can. More than once have I been stopped by a tourist downtown who has asked, "You are the guy with the videos, aren't you?" Yes, I am. "Awesome, well we are here in this spot because of your show."
Shameless self-promotion? Of course. But I have personally said to anyone who will listen that Eat It and Like It wouldn't exist without the talent in the kitchens in Savannah, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. The talent that is obsessed with seeing to it that your cup of coffee is perfect. The talent that makes sure your dining experience is as close to perfect as it can be. Every single time. They are all the real winners. And as a result, so are we all.
See you on Sunday night!
2018 FOODIE AWARD WINNERS
Best Place to See Someone You Know
The 5 Spot
Runner up: Circa 1875
Best use of local products
Runner up: Green Truck Pub
Runner up: Cotton & Rye
The Howlin’ Hound’s Bethesda Burger
Runner up: XO Sports Bar Omni, Hilton Head Island
The Collins Quarter
Runner up: Ordinary Pub
Best Craft Cocktails
Runner up: Alley Cat Lounge
Best of River Street
Runner up: Dub’s Pub
Runner Up: HH Prime, Hilton Head Island
Best Fried Chicken You Don’t Have to Wait in Line for
Runner up: Lil’ Chick
Runner up: Ombra Cucina Rustica, Hilton Head Island
Runner Up: Vinnie Van Go-Go’s
Best Fried Shrimp
A-J’s Dockside Restaurant, Tybee Island
Runner Up: Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp, Tybee Island
OKKO, Hilton Head Island
Runner up: The Vault
Tequila’s Town Mexican Restaurant
Runner up: Jalapeno’s Authentic Mexican Grill
Best Spot to Eat When You are Broke
Parker’s Urban Gourmet Kitchen
Runner up: Randy’s BBQ
Best Shrimp and Grits
Cotton & Rye
Runner up: Olde Pink House
Betty Bombers’ Ultimate Chicken Sub
Runner up: Earl of Sandwich Pub’s Reuben, Hilton Head Island
Flying Monk Noodle Bar
Runner up: King & I
Best New Restaurant
Runner Up: Fox & Fig
Fox & Fig
Runner up: Natural Selections
Flacos Tacos, Pooler
Runner up: Taqueria del Sabor, Bluffton
One Hot Mama’s, Hilton Head Island
Runner up: 520 Wings
B’s Cracklin BBQ
Runner up: One Hot Mama’s, Hilton Head Island
Auspicious Baking Co.
Runner up: Gottlieb’s Bakery
Best Coffee Roaster/Shop
Savannah Coffee Roasters
Runner up: Foxy Loxy
Best Food with a View
Beach Club, Sea Pines Plantation, Hilton Head Island
Runner up: The Wyld Dock Bar
Beer of the Year
Service Brewing Co.’s Old Guard
Moss and Oak’s Dark Chocolate and Banana Bread Pudding
Runner up: Take your pick.
Best Spot You Likely Don’t Know About
Runner up: Two Brothers Pizza, Pooler
Best Food Truck
Big Bon Pizza
Runner up: Chazito’s Latin Cuisine, Pooler
Best Food/Live Music Mix
Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant
Runner up: Ruby Lee’s South, Hilton Head Island
Leopold’s Best Ice Cream Award
Leopold’s Ice Cream
Runner up: Hilton Head Ice Cream