A universal truth is that all food tastes better outside. What other reason could explain the hygienically sketchy yet ubiquitously successful New York City hotdog cart?
The two weeks my wife and I recently spent in Provence and Paris further proved this maxim as we ate all but six meals outside, and even if we were seated inside, floor-to-ceiling windows, often wide open, brought outside elements in and made the atmospheres complement the aliments. Even when the temps in Paris soared to 108.7 degrees, the café culture was undaunted — sidewalk tables along every street still packed with people sipping their Aperol Spritzes and condensing glasses of rosé.
One of the reasons my wife and I fell in love with Savannah was the reality of being able to dine year-round on porches and patios or seated at sidewalk tables, à la Europe, amid the breezy bustle of passersby. On our Google sheet of local restaurants, those that offer outdoor dining are bold-faced and, more often than not, are the ones we consider first whenever we make plans to go out.
Because the last Dine Savannah column featured Starland Yard, a venue that is all about eating outside by design, I thought that I might highlight other restaurants in town that possess unique and charming exterior spaces that elevate the experience, some of which have al fresco environs that even make good food just a little better.
With any luck, in just a week or two, we will not be enduring a daily climate akin to Venus, which means that the next three months will usher in delightful times to dine out-of-doors. Regardless of the time of day, the occasion, or your budget, you will enjoy whiling away a couple of hours at these particular places.
Special food, special outdoor spaces
The hands-down winner of overall outdoor ambience paired with exceptional cuisine is Cotton & Rye. Outside the handsomely renovated interior of a 1950s bank, the dark wooden louvres hide just enough of the Habersham traffic, not to mention the derelict sight of the Radley House across the street, to make you feel like you are on your own covered back deck, and the tables in the open-air garden are even more lovely, particularly as night falls. You cannot beat this combination of al fresco and food.
At first, we worried that the patio facing Victory Drive at Atlantic would be overwhelmed by the constant noise, but amazingly, the steady flow of cars somehow fades into the backdrop as you sit under the bright globe lights. Each menu item needs to drop in price between $3 and $5 — or portions enlarged by a third — but the surroundings make you forgive and forget at least one buck per plate.
Husk’s covered side porch is stately and secured from the thoroughfare that is West Oglethorpe Avenue. Though for the lunch hours, prepare yourself to adjust your seating to find ample shade. Again, this will not be an issue in just a few weeks when that daytime sunshine is welcome. La Scala offers abundant square footage of elegant patio dining, both behind and alongside the East 37th Street building, perfect for large gatherings once a late-September breeze comes to town.
I would be remiss not to mention the second-floor porch on the East Saint Julian side of The Olde Pink House, arguably the most secluded and enchanting outdoor space at any local restaurant, comprising but four tables. With a lovely view of Reynolds Square, no place will make you feel more like you are in old Savannah.
Liberty Street, our little Europe
Perhaps no other stretch in Savannah feels as European as the Liberty Street corridor that runs from Tattnall to Abercorn, a busy but bucolic third-of-a-mile that offers more than a half-dozen restaurants with sidewalk seating.
When we first started visiting back in 2013, The Public quickly became a favorite spot because the cuisine and service were dependable, but mostly because we love sitting on the Bull Street side. It deftly balances upscale and unfussy and is a splendid place to sit as darkness descends on a cool autumn evening.
Only a few steps away is Savannah’s branch of the Mellow Mushroom franchise, which has six tables under broad awnings. Sure, it is chain pizza, but it is reliable and even tastier because of where you are sitting. Either beware or behold the fact that this is often a smoker-friendly zone. Across Liberty is The Public’s sister restaurant Soho South, whose menu is incredibly agreeable and whose outdoor seating is not fancy but offers the same lovely live oak canopy with less foot traffic.
Though Edgar’s Proof & Provision is in a hotel and is Savannah’s outpost of the Atlanta original, it has the covered front porch at The DeSoto, strung with overhead patio lights and made cozy with portable heaters and a fire pit. Cross Drayton and you can sit outside at Hitch, whose menu is now nearly identical to the one at Treylor Park. Be forewarned that the piped music, both inside and outside, is far too loud and is often much too lame classic rock and that each food item is at least $2 overpriced. But again, you tend to forgive because you are eating outside.
At the far western end of Liberty, the neighboring Frali Gourmet and Savannah Coffee Roasters are popular destinations for locals and tourists alike, the latter home to several sidewalk tables that are always packed. Start the day at SCR with an espresso and a smoked sausage roll and come back to Frali at lunchtime for a parma melt.
Beachy, Southern setting
More often than not, we want our outdoor restaurants to be casual, homey, and unpretentious. Sadly, this generally means that said restaurant takes license to serve up slipshod, standard fare, and Savannah numbers many an eatery that asks us to pay for the atmosphere — or that simply asks tourists to pay tourist prices in tourist places.
While late-summer and early-autumn temps allow us to stay in our tees and flip flops, a handful of restos with respectable and approachable food are worth visiting because of their pleasant and relaxed settings. After a morning on the sand at Tybee, stroll up the boardwalk at The Deck and hose off your feet before you tuck into fish-and-chips or funji tacos. If you are on the other side of the island, enjoy sunset on A-J’s back deck, well-worn by weather and loyal customers, while you crack crab legs or eat fried anything.
Each time we go back to Tubby’s Tank House in Thunderbolt, we like it more and more. Its roadside deck is now immense, and there are still plenty of seats under cover if you want to watch the Falcons on a Sunday afternoon. If you go with a few friends or family, ask to sit at one of the two tables on the front porch of the original house. Tubby’s may well be the local epitome of a restaurant whose good food magically becomes better than good because of its outdoor space. If only those condos did not block the view of the Wilmington River.
In the category of “Food is OK but Sitting Here is Great,” Blowin’ Smoke takes the taco. At this point, who knows what the service model is at this locals’ barbecue cantina, and by the time this article prints, the menu items and prices might have changed yet again. Still, when the weather is nice enough for the garage doors to be thrown open, the hightops near the bar are prime seats for a couple of ample and tasty tacos.
Pay for view
In our City of Squares and Spanish Moss, few downtown settings are as gorgeous as Troupe Square, which makes Fox & Fig a go-to, even if the prices are high. This is veggies, right? The Beyond Burger is delicious, but the from-a-bag Zapp’s chips make me steal a few more glances at the stunning square with each bite just to validate the cost: even the best locally sourced produce should not come with this bottom line. Kermit was right, I guess: it ain’t easy eating green. If Fox & Fig were on another square, my gut says that it would not be quite as popular, but because it has filled a niche and is on Troupe Square, be ready to wait for an outside table.
The views at The Wyld Dock Bar are exquisite, offering panoramic scenes of and around Country Club Creek, Herb River, and acres of marshland. The food at The Wyld is also superb — which makes me want more of whatever I have ordered, other than the side of bagged chips, considering what I am about to pay. Just down the road, Pearl’s Saltwater Grille remains a special occasion destination for many reasons, including the location, but know that this is standard southern seafood dining served on vinyl tablecloths at haute cuisine prices and, technically, the large window-lined dining room only feels like it is outside.
Cosy and kitschy
Not surprisingly, some of Savannah’s best outdoor dining can be had at very unique restaurants, and all of these fall smackdab in the cheap eats column. Even better than the streetside seats at Hitch, its sister gastropub and original-in-the-mini-franchise Treylor Park is home to the cutest back patio this side of Paris. For essentially the same food served a few blocks southward, it is worth waiting for one of the hightops out back at Treylor Park to eat your Southern Sloppy Joe with house-made chips.
Green Fire Pizza makes one of the best, most consistent pies in town, and the refurbished art deco garage tucked in between the splashy newness of the Perry Lane Hotel is a great spot with both covered and open seating. A few blocks north on Drayton, Zunzi’s is worth the wait in line, so long as the sun is not beating down, and its adjacent parking lot has several umbrella-ed tables and South African-flagged cornhole.
Heading south of Forsyth Park, sit on the covered side patio at Bull Street Taco and treat yourself to the always overstuffed Chum’s Taco, probably after you have waited half an hour for a table: choose your timing wisely. If you go to BST on a Saturday night, head down Bull to Foxy Loxy’s beautiful back garden to make s’mores for dessert at one of its Fire & Wine events — and then come back on Sunday morning to have a horchata latte at a Boombox Brunch: noise ordinance dispute be damned!
Starland Café’s front porch and backyard do not offer many tables, but take one if it is open. The views here are not breathtaking vistas; instead, this is another unique place that makes you glad to live in a city whose neighborhoods are so charming. The same goes for the garden patio and sidewalk tables at Maté Factor, an ideal outdoor nook for a cool Sunday morning with a sticky sweet muffin.
First things first: we should all take heart that the summer Savannah heat will abate in the next few weeks, especially as we head out after 6 p.m. for dinner. Once that happens, enjoy eating outside as much as you can. On a whim, pack a paper sack or load a basket and head to Forsyth or to one of the squares with your own al fresco fare.
I promise that it will taste great.
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.
IF YOU EAT
What: Cotton & Rye
Where: 1801 Habersham St.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Closed on Sunday
What: Husk Savannah
Where: 12 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 5:30-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday.
What: Old Pink House
Where: 23, Abercorn St.
Hours: Dinner 5-10:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
What: Public Kitchen
Where: 1 W. Liberty St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Info: 912-200-4045; First come, first serve.
What: Mellow Mushroom
Where: 11 W. Liberty St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
What: Soho Cafe
Where: 12 W. Liberty St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Info: First come, first serve. No reservations.
What: Savannah Coffee Roasters
Where: 215 W. Liberty St.
Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
What: The Deck
Where: 404 Butler Ave, Tybee Island.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
What: Tubby’s Tankhouse Thunderbolt
Where: 2909 River Dr.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday Brunch
What: Fox & Fix
Where: 321 Habersham St.
Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. every day
What: The Wyld Dock Bar
Where: 2740 Livingston Ave.
Hours: Noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; Noon-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Noon-9 p.m. Sunday; Closed on Monday
What: Pearl’s Saltwater Grille
Where: 7000 LaRoache Ave.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday
What: Treylor Park Savannah
Where: 115 E. Bay St.
What: Green Fire Pizza
Where: 236 Drayton St.
Hours: 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Noon-10 p.m. Sunday
Where: 108 E. York St.
Hours: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. every day.
What: Bull Street Taco
Where: 1608 Bull St.
Hours: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Closed on Sunday
What: Foxy Loxy Cafe
Where: 1919 Bull St.
Hours: 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
What: Starland Cafe
Where: 11 E. 41st.
Where: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Closed on Sundays
What: Mate Factor
Where: 401 E. Hall St.
Hours: 6 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday; 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday