As has been the case for the six years that we have lived in Savannah, I looked forward to last week’s printing of the Savannah Morning News’ "The Best of the Best," specifically the "Dining in the Coastal Empire" results, mostly to roll my eyes and groan.
The French version of the familiar and oft-appropriated axiom is à chacun son goût: to each his own taste. The issue, sadly, is that some people think that Jimmy Buffett makes music and that Titanic was anything better than meh. There is such a thing as bad taste.
For the gustatorial good of the masses, I cannot help but opine this week over what restaurants should have won, interspersed with an occasional ‘attaboy’.
Because so many Savannah restaurants feature small plates and such, this category might well have been the biggest toss-up in the entire slate, made bittersweet by a finalist finish for the deeply deserving and dearly departed Atlantic.
No shade for The Original Crab Shack or Jazz’d, but seeing 787 by Chazito’s, Cotton & Rye, Crystal Beer Parlor, and Husk would have made savory sense.
Every three months or so, we need peach fritters from Baker’s Pride. Everyone does, which means that I cannot blame the public for picking it over Auspicious, though if I were to visit a bakery daily or weekly, it would be Auspicious every time due to its bona fide boulangerie craftsmanship and delicious variety. Finishing a respectable second should be Maté Factor.
Sandfly BBQ rightly came out on top, another rather sweet-and-sour nod after the recent closing of its Streamliner outpost. I was surprised not to see Wiley’s, Wall’s, or Munchie’s among the finalists — instead of The Original Crab Shack. Looks like the Tybee faithful stuffed the ballot box.
Other than the masses (religious pun intended) that flock (ditto) in the Sunday morning exodus (pun holy trinity) from St. John the Baptist, I cannot figure out who eats at J. Christopher’s. Sure, it is a place for big-plate breakfasts, but not ones worth the wait. It is a chain and both feels and tastes like it. Then again, most folks love the comfort of chain fare.
I have never eaten at The Breakfast Club because I do not queue for eggs and toast. I would sooner grab an egg-and-cheese muffin at Sunrise and hit the beach an hour earlier. Otherwise, The Collins Quarter is a quality finalist, but my wife and I only go there super-early because by 10 o’clock on a weekend morning, it is super-busy.
It might not be two eggs, meat, and bread, but the best breakfast in town is still a Maté Factor sweet roll and mango-orange juice, a kolache from Foxy Loxy with an iced horchata latte, or a hunk of Auspicious monkey bread with a cuppa at my house.
See above. Brunch is for suckers who get out of bed too late and who want to drink watered-down alcohol before noon. Fifteen-dollar eggs and $12 orange juice laced with a thimble of the cheapest champers. There: I have just offended everyone.
Even though I like mine pink, "Well done, food friends." Green Truck is exceptional, and Crystal Beer Parlor’s plethora of patties are underappreciated, though for just $12, the Circa 1875 burger remains the most extraordinary one in town.
Do yourself a favor: learn to make Asian cuisine at home. Most standards are cheap and quick to prepare. There is precious little that separates $15 sit-down Chinese from $5 takeaway boxes, and when I really yen for Chinese, I will always go for the dodgy strip-mall greasy wok.
For Asian fusion that is truly tasty, have the teriyaki beef or the yellow curry at Fire Street Food, technically not Chinese but worth mentioning here and now.
It is difficult to mess up a wing. Virtually every restaurant that has them on its menu orders them pre-cut and frozen. Deep-fry and coat in sauce. All ingredients and preparations being virtually equal, what Kayak Kafé serves up are special, and Crystal Beer Parlor does them just like our city’s best bar should.
Another proper pick from the populace is Leopold’s. I was not surprised that Lulu’s was a finalist, though I am less and less inclined to pay tourist prices for a slice of pie at the MLK Boulevard location.
The brownie at Gallery Espresso still beats all, and the overall selection at the Chippewa Square cornerstone café is better than most day in and day out and deserves at least second-place finish.
We need to define "diner": a diner does not offer tacos, $12 burgers, $4 grits, and $8 shakes. A diner is not part of a national chain. In its appearance and by its menu, Clary’s looks every bit the part, but then the food comes.
That leaves Fork & Dagger, which recently removed "Latin" from the diner’s full name, as the only and justifiably best in town.
For this category, too, the quality choices abound, so The Olde Pink House’s victory is, by no means, surprising or dubious. That being true, Circa is #1, Cotton & Rye is #2, and St. Neo’s is #3, with several more neatly lined up to round out a Top Ten.
Because of what we have all endured in 2020, every food truck deserves to share this category’s top spot. Our eternal gratitude to them all.
Wie tragisch. The other day, I said to my wife that the saddest story of the entire pandemic was the passing of chef-owner Marshall Urstadt and the subsequent closing of Bier Haus, which was Savannah’s best hidden gem. If you ever had his house-made wurst, spätzle, or sensational schnitzel, you are shedding tears, too.
Having never eaten at Himalayan Curry Kitchen in Richmond Hill, I would not dare to slam their saag and those who love it, but we are partial to Naan on Broughton if I am not up to making chicken tikka masala myself.
Something is fishy in Roma because none of the three top vote-getters in this category were La Scala or Garibaldi. Neither Frali Gourmet nor Pacci took away even a bronze. Concerning those that folks chose: ugh. Boil your own pasta and make your own sauce in 15 minutes. Anyone who pays $17.95 for spaghetti is off his pignoli.
See Chinese. Then go to Nom Nom Poké Shop for incredible fusion "deconstructed sushi."
Local coffee shop
This is another category for which Savannah is roasted richly, which means that we cannot go far wrong. I still rate Foxy Loxy the best, along with all of its Foxy friends, for the quality of the coffees and teas and the unique ambience, though Savannah Coffee Roasters has great brews and sweets. Just hope that the line is short and the crew is up to it that day.
How funny that this cuisine category leads to more arguments in town than a prep high school football game. I am pleased that the people’s choice was the correct one: Tequila’s Town or bust. If you are out running Abercorn errands, nip into La Nopalera for a combination dinner.
This is where I thank all of the Jalapeño’s partisans for reading, before they chuck this column in the bin.
It is tough to beat a place on the water, so if that were a prerequisite, I would have voted for finalist The Wyld. For simply being out-of-doors with food: Fox & Fig sits on Troup Square; Green Fire Pizza is nestled underneath a deco garage’s awning; Starland Yard is many restaurants in one, all outside in a great neighborhood; Tubby’s prodigious deck makes you feel like you live in Savannah; Zunzi’s puts you right downtown; Treylor Park’s back patio could not be more charming and cozy; and Atlantic (sigh).
Our favorites for a nice night out (literally) will always be secluded in Cotton & Rye’s courtyard or sitting along Bull Street at The Public.
This is another strange category because the best restaurants in town make the best salads as a matter of course: Circa, Cotton & Rye, Husk, et. al.
Kayak Kafé is more than deserving of the win, especially its Olympic Greek with the cilantro-lime vinaigrette, and if this were delineated to strictly soup-and-salad eateries, Starland Café would be an easy top-three choice.
No complaints or criticisms with this winner either: Zunzi’s remains Savannah’s signature sandwicherie. That written, whoever has the best bread has the best sandwich, and that is Starland Café, hands down. Rocky’s NY Deli is legit, and Maté Factor’s Original Deli Rose, the roast beef one, might be the best single sandwich in the city.
Sacreligious as it sounds, going out for seafood is not really on our dining sonar, unless we are on St. Simons for a weekend getaway, where we invariably eat at Georgia Sea Grill. In Savannah, a seafood entrée for us is, most likely, the truite de Ruisseau poêle at Circa or the fried shrimp at Geneva’s Famous Chicken and Cornbread Co.
I will take your word for it that The (ubiquitous) Original Crab Shack, Pearl’s Saltwater Grille, and The Shell House are the tops in town.
Shrimp & grits
More common in Savannah than a sunny day is this Southern seafood staple. I have never had The Olde Pink House’s rendition or the dishes made by the two finalists. Our favorites are served up at The Public and B. Matthew’s.
Because this is Savannah, isn’t all of this technically Southern food? If we are talking meat-and-three comfort cuisine, Geneva’s everyday and twice on Sunday. With all due respect to the venerable Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, I would have loved to see Miss Geneva top this list this year.
Evidently these still exist, frequented by men donning suits and drinking cocktails or wearing trucker caps and riding a mechanical bull before eating a real one. Who knew?
All three of the top vote-getters are chains, while Savannah Spirits and Chophouse unceremoniously closed after less than a year in business. There you go.
Congrats to Bull Street Taco and to all who voted for it: a valid victory. Chum’s Taco is my favorite in town, overstuffed and cheap, and Bull Street Taco is just a fun place to eat out.
Tequila’s Town is a spot-on second-place finalist, particularly considering the recent opening of Tacos+Tequila on Habersham.
One of these days, I will find myself in Pooler or headed westward on 204 and try out Flacos Tacos. I have heard good things and am surprised that it did not make a finalist appearance. For a non-Tex-Mex restaurant taco, try the shrimp & grits version at Treylor Park-Hitch.
Our best burger joint also nabs the sash for Best Vegan & Vegetarian? Borrowing the profoundly pointed word and eyebrow raise of Action Bronson, "Alright." Fox & Fig and Kayak are meritable runners-up, for sure. The next time you are at Crystal Beer Parlor, surprise yourself with its veggie burger: homemade and outstanding.
The teacher in me certainly recognizes and commends the A-pluses that this year’s voters earned, though the Fs are glaring. Partly because I have the pleasure and the privilege of writing "Dine Savannah" each week, I will never vote in any restaurant rating review.
For those that do, please treat yourself to something new and different. Trust me that the eating scene in Savannah has so much more to offer than what you have voted for every year.