Never bury the lead: 1540 Room is a great restaurant.
The recently retooled menu remains farm-to-table in its ethos, with an enhanced dedication to local purveyors, and offers an array of Coastal Empire standards, each with its own signature twist.
If The Grey and Cotton & Rye had a restaurant love child, it would look, taste, and feel like 1540 Room. The fare is decidedly ‘Southern comfort’ but gives diners a grown-up wink and a nudge, epitomized by the seared duck foie gras and waffles topped with whipped goat cheese and bourbon syrup, a rich and decadent older cousin of chicken-n-waffles.
Between mouthfuls of the pillowy blue crab beignets, one of DeSoto Executive Chef Mark Santiago’s creations, my wife and I already agreed that we would be coming back.
The buttery petite filet outshone its accompanying mac and cheese and braised collards. The shrimp, one of a few items provided by Russo’s Seafood, were big and sweet, served with not-too-spicy andouille and grit cakes, a clever spin on the familiar that was the star of the dish.
The next night, we returned to do our due diligence, and by that, I mean to eat dessert, sharing the equally delicious brioche bread pudding and the praline ganache tart. The former was soft and tasty, though I wanted more of both the pudding and the creme anglaise; the latter was like a dark chocolate Reese’s cup the size of a CD but with a light, pot du cremey hazelnut center.
In the four years I have lived in Savannah, I had never stepped inside 1540 Room before last week, and it seems like my wife and I are not the only Savannahians who have heretofore forsaken, or simply forgotten about, the DeSoto’s classy confines for a superb dinner.
Renovated space? Check. Reimagined menu? Check. New Head Chef? Check. Patrons?...
Apologies to the Bard, but ay, there’s the spice rub: a quality restaurant waits and wonders how to get people to walk in.
Having had one meal at 1540 Room, this is admittedly more intuition than experience, but all the restaurant lacks is frontage. Thousands of tourists walking down Liberty in their jeans and Keens might never look up from their phones to realize that a stunning restaurant is steps away. My gut says that even the vast majority of the DeSoto’s overnight guests come down the elevators and head right out the revolving front doors, instead of simply hooking a right in the hotel lobby.
So how do you let the masses, both local and visiting, know that the independent restaurant that just happens to be inside the hotel is not the ‘hotel restaurant’?
Chef Santiago and DeSoto Food and Beverage Director Elise Houston agree. “We want the word to get out there to not only guests that are visiting but [also] to locals,” says Houston. “Locals know the DeSoto, they have history with the DeSoto, and we want guests to keep coming back.”
If driving and parking downtown remain deterrents, consider this: any diners at 1540 Room or the neighboring Edgar’s Proof & Provision receive free valet parking for up to two hours.
Their farm-to-table concept, realized each day by Head Chef Ryan Alpaugh, who came on board three months back, “lives and breathes Southern flavor” by featuring fifteen local farms and providers on the menu.
As clean and stylish as is the interior, 1540 Room is not pretentious or stuffy. Renovated two years ago, the dining space and theater kitchen are one, sharing a rich wood floor and cream-and-gunmetal waterfall marble countertops. In the open concept dining room, pale grey upholstered chairs gather in quartets around two dozen tables. The super-high ceiling and immense brass chandeliers and sconces are the only features that make 1540 Room more formal than cozy.
In October and November of 2018, a change in kitchen leadership meant a migration to a more familiar culinary landscape. Empanadas and agnolotti gave way to May River oysters and crispy pork belly dressed with Readee’s honey as Chefs Santiago and Alpaugh collaborated to add reimagined dishes with their own personalized touches.
Without question, 1540 Room is ideal for a rehearsal dinner, but it is also a lovely option for date night or a smart place to linger over wine and a few shared courses with friends after work. Dinner will not set you back as much as Elizabeth or 45 Bistro. It is on price-point par with Cotton & Rye and Circa and a diners’ guide dollar sign above B. Matthews and Public.
If any of those are in your ‘treat yourself’ restaurant rotation, 1540 Room deserves a slot.
Someday, Neil and his wife will be living in a tiny town in the south of France, eating, doing crosswords, and playing Scrabble. For now, when he is not grading papers, baking bread, or watching EPL soccer, he writes and he builds furniture.