She reminded me that the first time we spoke was roughly six years ago. "There wasn't nearly as much competition around Savannah then as there is now, was there?" she asks.

No, there wasn't. Certainly there were a handful of good places to eat around Savannah circa 2011-12. But nothing like it is today.

"It's supposed to make us all want to do better. And be better," she adds. Chef Lauren Teague is all smiles as she shares her latest nuggets of wisdom.

Truthfully, I've never seen Chef Lauren not be all smiles. That's just her disposition. She smiled every time we'd visit her at 22 Square at the Andaz Hotel. She smiled when she told me she was leaving the Andaz to open Atlantic - A Neighborhood Eatery with Jason Restivo.

She smiled when she confirmed to me that she had left Atlantic. She smiled when she landed at The Emporium Kitchen & Wine Market this summer. Now she's just plain giddy about her latest opportunity at Pacci Italian Kitchen + Bar, inside of the Brice Hotel in downtown Savannah.

"I'm so excited about doing Italian food here. I don't want to make any promises about what it will be except my version of Italian food," she says.

The day we spoke (her third on the job), she had barely met all of her staff. She couldn't really give me a tour of the property yet. "I don't know my way around yet. But isn't this place beautiful?"

Yes, Pacci is a beautiful space. Has been since day one, when it opened in 2014 with former Savannah chef Roberto Leoci in charge of the kitchen. Pacci splashed onto the scene at the time in the newly renovated Brice Hotel. It was a destination restaurant. Located blocks away from anything else downtown, you didn't just wander into Pacci. You went there because the food was great.

Now, four years and a handful of chefs later, Lauren is ready to take over at Pacci. The CIA New York grad has a master plan for what she envisions it being.

"It will be a slow process with the menu. We aren't going to rush anything," she says.

She admits to missing the groups you can entertain when you are working in a hotel restaurant.

"The guests are so diverse, because they aren't there for your restaurant. They are there for the hotel," she says. "The bridal parties, the bachelorette groups, the parents with their children. I love feeding them all."

A lot of chefs will tell you that. But I actually believe her.

In 2015, she was named Hyatt Hotels Executive Chef of the Year. That's nothing to sneeze at. In 2013, she was awarded our Eat It and Like It Foodie Award for Best Use of Local Ingredients after she shared a story with us about seeing a garden growing at West Broad Street Street YMCA. She didn't know where she was. But she pulled over and bought as much produce and herbs as they would sell her.

"It was perfect!" she told me at the time.

"After Atlantic, I could have gone anywhere," she says. "But I worked at The Diplomat Luncheonette and I worked at Sentient Bean because I wanted to stay here in Savannah. We love it here."

So she continues to make the daily commute from her home in Hardeeville, S.C. Nearly an hour door to door this time to her newest opportunity at Pacci.

They are lucky to have her there. So are we in Savannah.

"We want everyone to feel like home at Pacci," she says. "Whether it be for a glass of wine and a quick bite to something more substantial."

She's clearly busy putting her own thumbprints on everything. And even jokingly asks that no one show up to her party until Oct. 15. That's the date she is giving herself to have her own systems and dishes in place. Of course, you can go see her before then. She'd love to see you.

See you on TV,

Jesse

 

ABOUT PACCI ITALIAN KITCHEN + BAR

Address: 601 E. Bay St.

Info: paccisavannah.com, 912-233-6002

 

QUICK BITES

• Quick reminder: Our season premiere of "Eat It and Like It with Jesse Blanco" is Sept. 23. We've moved to WTOC over the summer. Find us 11:30 a.m. beginning this Sunday, right before "The NFL Today" on CBS.

• On Sept. 22, the best deal in the area is at Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island. The inaugural shrimp festival will be held in the lawn adjacent to the marina at Harbour Town. Perfect scene, and $20 gets you all-you-can-eat shrimp from six different chefs from 2-6 p.m. Tickets in advance at hiltonheadislandshrimpfest.com.

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