If you live in the Cannonborough Elliotborough district or really anywhere on peninsular Charleston, chances are you eat at the ‘downtown’ Five Loaves Cafe at least once a month.
Be honest: probably more often, right? Good for you. I am gastronomically jealous.Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters
With two additional locations in Mt. Pleasant and Summerville, Five Loaves is the standard bearer for the GlowFisch Hospitality Group, which now also numbers three Sesame Burgers & Beer restaurants and Ember Wood Fired Kitchen in its Lowcountry esculent mini-empire. The ethos of all seven GlowFisch eateries is unified and clear: healthy food, high-quality ingredients, and a responsible and eco-conscious commitment to local and sustainable produce.
Just as important, our annual or semi-annual lunches at the original Five Loaves branch have confirmed that the food is delicious - which is why, after each visit, I lament anew the fact that a Five Loaves Cafe is not at the end of my block, a proper sit-down sandwich shop that scratch-makes almost everything it serves.
Dare to dream. Instead, we Ardsley Parkers have Yia Yia’s.
SOUP AND SANDWICH?
Amazing and comprehensive as the Savannah dining scene has become, there remains a dearth of definitive sandwicheries. Certainly, countless places serve paninis and subs, and whatsits on a biscuit, but even an offhand Google search of ‘Savannah sandwich’ yields only The Diplomat, which is great and bakes all of its own bread, before descending into the abyss ruled by Baldinos and Larry’s, and the Sub Chain Quartet of Firehouse, Jersey Mike’s, Jimmy John’s, and Subway.
First off, I said ‘sandwich’ not ‘sub’. Bite for bite, Starland Café and Rocky’s NY Deli make the best sandwiches in Savannah, the former being the closest to what Five Loaves offers and is, though Starland’s sublime ciabatta bread encases a panini and not truly a good old-fashioned deli sandwich. Zunzi’s monster mouthfuls are great but are too unique to be categorized. Back in the Day and Maté Factor also have some tasty meats-on-breads, but both are understandably bakeries first and not soup-and-sandwich shops.
Sometimes, all I want is a BLT. Or chicken salad on whole wheat toast. Or corned beef, sliced newspaper thin, on marble rye with plenty of mayo. A cup of soup might be nice. Is that too much to ask? Most importantly, I selfishly want the place right at the end of my block.
A NEIGHBORHOOD STAPLE
Seventeen years ago this week, Joe Fischbein and his then business partner opened the first Five Loaves Cafe in what was a pre-transitional downtown neighborhood. It would be a few years until the Charleston restaurant boom would explode and a few years later still that Cannonborough Elliotborough would become the next frontier of residential rehab.
For its first few years in business, Five Loaves was one of very few restaurants in that part of the peninsula.
“We were off the beaten path,” said Fischbein of the downtown location on the corners of Cannon and Coming Streets, blocks removed from the busyness and business of King and Meeting. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus fed the multitude of thousands with just five loaves (plus two fishes), the origin of the Charleston franchise’s name - and over the last several years, the eponymous restaurants have fed multitudes and then some.
“Back in the day when it started,” Fischbein said, clarifying the Bible-versus-bakery confusion, “it was five choices of bread for our sandwiches, which was actually a coincidence.” Five Loaves expanded its hours and its menu and began serving dinner mid-2004, when Fischbein partnered with Casey Glowacki and GlowFisch Hospitality was born. It was not easy from the get go, though, and Fischbein recalled the “growing pains” with a few ‘on-the-other-side-of-it-all-now’ laughs.
“Those were the days of mismatched chairs and tables,” he chuckled, explaining nights when Glowacki worked the grill, Fishbein himself tended bar, washed dishes, and hosted, and a server handled all of the tables.
The work was well worth it and was duly recognized. In 2006, The Post and Courier named Five Loaves Cafe - a place where, at the time, nothing on the dinner menu was north of ten bucks - one of the six best restaurants in Charleston, ranked with the likes of fine-dining mainstays High Cotton and Slightly North of Broad. For quite a while, Five Loaves stayed in top ten lists on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Zomato.
Over the next fourteen years, the two entrepreneurs and their GlowFisch brand grew six more restaurants with a formula that clearly works, all the while Five Loaves remaining a local favorite as the Internet transmitted the appetizing word far and wide.
“We’ve always had a tremendous amount of local population coming in, but that has started to spread,” Fischbein said, noting the twenty-odd restaurants that have opened within a few city blocks in the last decade. “The evolution of [this] area is really mind-boggling,” he added, “considering where it was ten, fifteen years ago. It’s pretty incredible.”
Without question, Five Loaves was an evolutionary impetus, paving the way for food to come to Cannonborough and stay part of the neighborhood fabric.
A great sign is a packed dining room, and on a drippy December Sunday, Five Loaves had maybe one open table, the cute and cozy corner restaurant filled with couples and families, locals and tourists. Crowded means food can be fresh because it is being turned over.
The downtown location serves lunch every weekday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a special brunch menu offered on Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 10 a.m. That means sandwiches to any stomach’s content are available each and every day, both in full and half portions, as well as homemade soups in cups and bowls and an array of salads. Dinner at Five Loaves - from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday - keeps several salads, soups, and sandwiches on the evening menu and adds ten reasonably priced entrées and a half-dozen veggie sides. The Five Loaves staff is friendly and happy, probably a result of the cheerful atmosphere that comes from customers enjoying themselves over great food in a comfortable, unpretentious setting. It just feels like a place where you want to be a regular.
The chicken salad club is fantastic, piled high with crisp bacon and bright mixed greens and avocado on multigrain sliced thick and butter-grilled, a sandwich that asks you to articulate your jaw to take your first bite. My other favorite is the peppercorn & coriander rare roast beef, topped with smoked provolone and slathered with both horseradish mayonnaise and honey grain mustard. Either to go with a sandwich or on a day off from meat-and-bread, at least three soups are made in-house daily. I can vouch for the thick and tasty potato, cheddar, and broccoli, which was the perfect warmer-upper from the rain last Sunday.
My wife ordered her chicken feta oregano burger without bread, so it came as two tasty patties atop a garden of greens with house-made tzatziki feta sauce.
Suffice to say, for lunch, brunch, or dinner, the menus are attractively ample, making it a challenge to choose from all of the items that sound superb. If Five Loaves were in our neighborhood, we would keep going back for every reason, not the least of which would be rotating through the variety of options. Really, the only homemade knock against Five Loaves is that the bread, somewhat ironically, is not baked on the premises, but even I can cut Fischbein and his team some slack dough here: with seven successful restaurants, they go through too much bread to bake it themselves.
“A dream we have always had is to do our own breads,” he said, “but there [is] no way to keep up with the demand.”
What a great ‘problem’ to have for a restaurateur.
If a Five Loaves Cafe, or Savannah’s version thereof, were to open at the corners of East 48th and Habersham, I would be there at least once a week. You would be, too. One by one, I would meet each of you between bites of scrumptious sandwiches, and we would all be glad to have such a place in the neighborhood. From my keyboard to God’s ear back to our plates and into our ecstatic stomachs.