It is our great fortune that the culinary geography of America has us lip-smacking-dab in barbecue country.
Perhaps Georgia does not have the pulled pork and pepper-vinegar history claimed by the Carolinas or the mesquite-smoked brisket tradition of Texas, but Savannah proper offers several homegrown BBQ joints, all of which prepare and smoke their meats onsite.
From Garden City to the Islands and from downtown to Vernonburg, no fewer than 15 restaurants are stoking the fires of their pits and our hungry bellies. We all have our favorites based on everything from price to homemade sauces to sides to signature techniques. Lucky for us all, no matter where you happen to be in Chatham County, good barbecue is nearby.
As of this week, those of us who live here and the millions who visit Savannah have two new BBQ joints to pull from: one in a newly renovated, but familiar restaurant space downtown and another in a popular posh place that has merrily branched into barbecue.
The shape of the sign on 16 W. State St. is well-known, though it has been cleverly covered in black with sharp black and white type and a little pig logo in the base of what was originally a musical quarter note.
The family partnership behind Savannah Seafood Shack — Timmy Tsoi and his daughter and son-in-law, Christine Cutlip and David Cutlip — opened Savannah Smokehouse this Tuesday in the space that most recently was Super Tastes Japanese Restaurant. When the property became available, they quickly moved on the opportunity to fill a void in the downtown food scene.
“The fast-casual concept has worked with seafood,” said David Cutlip. “So we wanted to do that here with barbecue.” He added that he is a fan of many of Savannah’s best-loved barbecue restaurants, but correctly noted that most require a drive.
When Angel’s Barbecue smoked its last Boston butt nearly three years ago, that left Wall's Bar B Que Restaurant as the only option north of Liberty and between Montgomery and Broad, and Wall’s is only open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. By design, Savannah Smokehouse will be open seven days a week, offering the same menu for both lunch and dinner and any walk-by snacking in between.
The vast majority of the menu is under $10 because no tourist wants to eat, or can afford to eat, at The Grey, Husk, and Local11ten over a long-weekend getaway. Folks who live or work downtown, SCAD students, and visitors in droves are going to flock to Savannah Smokehouse for an affordable lunch or an economical family friendly dinner.
The interior has been thoughtfully renovated with several long wood and steampunk communal tables, built by David Cutlip and his team. The tables will seat as many as 60 diners, who will order at the counter and then be brought steel trays piled with BBQ and sides. The chalkboard side wall and horizontal wood cladding blend to make an artfully modern meets ol’ time country eatery.
The kitchen is now home to a Southern Pride Smoker in which hickory wood is working through the night to smoke house-rubbed butts and brisket. The small meats, including ribs, chicken halves, wings, and sausage, go in at seven each morning to be ready for the lunch crowd before being restocked by Head Chef Curtis Morris to be ready for dinner guests.
In addition to all of the usual suspects of meats, homemade sides and down home apps, the menu features a showcase of local craft beers, at least half of which will be Savannah-brewed. The four sauces are all scratch-made: a classically sweet Hickory Smoked Barbecue, the Tangy Carolina Gold mustard-based sauce, Spicy Caribbean Jerk, and an authentic Sweet Peach.
The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and tasty, and the brisket, though a little fatty for my taste, was moist. I’m a burnt-ends man. The sweet potato fries are cut in-house, and the slaw’s mustardy dressing is a nice take on an often limp standard, though I am not a fan of diced cabbage: give me shredded or give me another side.
In July, Tsoi and the Cutlips will celebrate the Seafood Shack’s third anniversary, and if their Smokehouse racks up a similar following, they will soon have two mainstays on the city’s downtown fast-casual map.
I know what you are thinking: Cohen’s Retreat is where we go for a wedding reception or where we take our in-laws for a nice dinner when they come in from out-of-town.
Now, if you want to host at your own house, the culinary team at Cohen’s will bring its BBQ to you.
The Skidaway Terrace food-meets-art hidden gem has undergone a major makeover in the last two years, both in its restaurant leadership and with its interior layout and decor, and the newest edition is a barbecue catering service.
Executive Chef Will Herrington and Pitmaster Sean Goggin both came to Cohen’s Retreat a little more than a year ago, right when the already unique property was gifted a massive Lang smoker, and their passion project with seasoned smoked meats began last May.
Before I had even asked the duo my first question about their barbecue, they were smiling like the cats who had swallowed the smoked chicken.
“I get to play,” said Goggin, who has obviously loved every minute of the year-long research and development of reading, trial and error, and making a whole lot of BBQ.
“I quickly learned that to make good barbecue I had to make a lot of bad barbecue,” he admitted, without losing the grin.
Together, he and Herrington gradually introduced the oak-smoked meats of their labor to Cohen’s evolving lunch, brunch, and dinner menus: whole wings, half chickens, beef short ribs, and bacon. Through words of satisfied mouths, they created a following, which has led to more smoked items on the daily menus, as well as the launch of the catering program.
Herrington and Goggin are visibly proud about what they are doing with bought-local meats, including pork butts and beef brisket smoked at 225 degrees for up to 13 hours, and chicken and ribs that slow-roast for six hours. Every cut is dry-rubbed with an original and, yes, tightly kept secret mixture the night before it goes into the 108-inch Lang.
At the beginning of May, they served a party of 200 before they officially went live with their catered barbecue, which they are now offering for as few as 10 diners and as many as, well, 200, because they pulled off that first gig. The menu features a selection of meats, including sliced brisket, pulled Boston butts, pulled chicken, full racks of St. Louis ribs, whole chickens, and whole chicken wings. Freshly made sides are also available and range from baked beans, coleslaw, collard greens, potato salad, to Cohen’s own pickled veg.
The two chefs also plan to have their barbecue become the centerpiece of Cohen’s Music & Munchies events when they will roll their big baby out front of the property by the Savannah Blarney Stone — the first of which will be June 27.
Before then, have the neighborhood over to your backyard for Cohen’s barbecue. Call Sean Goggin for your by-the-pound order at least 24-hours in advance, and send me your address.
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 builds furniture and writes.