Ah, Savannah. That historic city that simply drips with Southern charm. It’s a place where you can slow down your pace, pick up a drawl, commune with ghosts, and revisit the past. If you’re an art lover, you’re in luck, since the students and staff at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) have fostered a vibrant arts community there. Beach bums will feel right at home on nearby Tybee Island, and history buffs will hardly run out of facts, figures, and folklore to ruminate over.
But this one is for the foodies, the eatatarians, the lovers of good grub and drink. Because if there’s anything that Savannah is serious about, it’s eating and drinking. Like any self-respecting Southern dame, Savannah does have her secrets. The locals don’t go to the same places that the tourists do, and when they do, they know better than to suffer ridiculous waits or fall for the tourist specials. So if you know someone in Savannah, get in touch with them before you arrive and ask them to show you around. But if you don’t, the following compilation of some of Savannah’s best restaurants, bars, and other gastronomic diversions should do you just fine.
|Where to Stay in Savannah: Hilton Desoto
|On my last two visits to Savannah, the Desoto has been my home base of operations. It’s not so much that the rates are spectacular, but you can’t get a much better location. The Desoto is smack dab in the middle of downtown Savannah, and it’s walking distance to almost every place on this and most other lists of places to see and what to do in Savannah. Ask for a room with a balcony – the view of downtown Savannah is beautiful day and night, and the ocean/river breeze doesn’t hurt.
for craft beer
The Distillery – Casual atmosphere, respectable brew selection, friendly wait staff. Happy hour specials that get you $1 off all draft brews. The menu features standard pub fare with flair. http://www.distillerysavannah.com/
for bbq that’s finger lickin’ good (not great)
Wiley’s Championship BBQ – Where’s there’s smoke, there’s usually good ‘cue. I didn’t smell any smoke when driving up to Wiley’s, but the barbecue was still pretty decent. The sauce comes in regular and spicy. The sides are a little more refined than most ‘cue shacks. http://www.wileyschampionshipbbq.com/
|One-of-a-Kind Savannah Souvenirs: Shop SCAD
|Shop SCAD is like a mini art museum, except you can take the art home with you. Unique and quirky handcrafted gifts, wearable art, paintings, cards, and housewares are on display. All of the art is made by SCAD students and alumni. http://shopscadonline.com/
for posh provisions
Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet – there are plenty of Parker’s gas stations around Savannah. But the one at the corner of Drayton and McDonough in downtown Savannah is decidedly different. Even from the outside, it’s hard to tell that this place is a gas station. And inside, you feel as if you’ve stepped into a new Whole Foods concept. Parker’s boasts a respectable wine section, craft brews, a gourmet hot bar, and high-end packaged goods. Grab some items for an impromptu gourmet picnic under the shade of Spanish-moss-covered trees in one of the nearby historic squares. Open 24 hours. http://www.parkersav.com/parkers_market.cfm
|Savannah’s Historic Squares
|Downtown Savannah is peppered with 24 historic squares, each one named for a notable historic figure or event. Grab yourself a box of chocolates and head to Chippewa Square… that’s the one where the bench scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed.
for crabgasmic goodness at a bargain price
Fiddler’s Crab House – Savannah’s selection of peel-and-eat seafood restaurants is surprisingly underwhelming. Fiddler’s is slightly above the rest of them for one reason only: the Monday night all-you-can-eat crab leg special for under $20. The joint ain’t fancy, and it’s smack dab in the middle of the touristy Savannah River Walk, but the crab is fresh, perfectly steamed and plentiful. http://www.yelp.com/biz/fiddlers-crab-house-savannah
|Hit the Bricks: Savannah Tours and Transportation
|At some point you’re going to want to walk off all the good grub you’ve been shoveling down your gullet. Fortunately, Savannah is extremely pedestrian-friendly. For $13, you can download a self-guided walking tour of Savannah. Of course if you’re totally lazy or you’ve tied on one too many, Savannah’s free Connect shuttle will get you anywhere you need to go in historic downtown Savannah.
for saying hello to your little friends
The Crab Shack (on Savannah’s Tybee Island) – They advertise as if they have Jesus on the menu. But in reality, the food is just ok. The service, equally so-so. And the open air, beachy dining experience would be nice, except for all the stray cats skulking about, and the sand gnats making an all-you-can-eat buffet out of your lower extremities. So if you absolutely must go to this tourist trap, bring some cover for legs and arms. Those little buggers can get vicious ‘round dusk. http://www.thecrabshack.com/
for fresh baked breakfast
Harris Baking Company – Nothing starts the day off as well as a good breakfast. Harris Baking Company offers a mouth-watering selection of fresh-baked breads and pastries, good quality coffee, and a pleasant environment to mull over the morning paper. It’s perfect, not-too-heavy fuel for a long day of Savannah sightseeing. http://www.harrisbakingco.com
|The Other First Lady of Savannah’s Food Scene
|Paula Deen undoubtedly put Savannah on the culinary map – which explains why so many people flock to The Lady and Sons, her iconic restaurant that features classic southern fare. The food at The Lady and Sons is damned good, but if you’re looking for a more authentic southern dining experience in Savannah, Mrs. Wilkes is your best bet.
for food like grandma used to make
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room (Cash only!) – Every time I think of Mrs. Wilkes, I have to drop my head and shake it back and forth like an old woman in church. Partly because of the trials and tribulations I had to go through to get there. But mostly because of the sweet glory that awaited me when I finally made it in! The wait for Mrs. Wilkes can be 1-2 hours, which you’ll spend standing outside in a line that snakes to the end of the block. Use the time to get to know your neighbors, since you’ll all be dining together at that big, bountiful buffet on the other side. Once you’re seated, the aunties start bringing the food. A head-swirling array of bowls heaped high with true Southern classics: rutabagas, succotash, turnip greens, cabbage, mashed potatoes, rice and gravy, black eyed peas, green beans, sweet potato soufflé, carrot salad, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, bbq pork, sausages, biscuits, and fresh bread… and that’s just a sampling of the dishes presented. Each is a textbook demonstration of how these Southern soul food staples should taste. Halleluuuu! http://www.mrswilkes.com/
Here are a few more places that I haven’t yet visited but have gotten glowing reviews from trusted foodie friends.
|Eat Like a Savannah Local: Off the Beaten Path
|For more restaurants and attractions that may not show up in the Savannah tourist guides, check out: http://www.savannahoffthebeatenpath.com/for a compilation of Savannah restaurants and watering holes that locals love and visitors often overlook.
Seafoodlicious – Rumored to serve up some of Savannah’s best low country boil and blue crabs. It’s located in an area that’s not as aesthetically pleasing as downtown Savannah. But you’re here for the food, not the scenery. http://www.yelp.com/biz/seafoodlicious-savannah
Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House – Paula Deen’s other Savannah restaurant, co-operated by her brother Bubba http://www.unclebubbas.com/
bar.food – Asian-fusion bar food, serious nightly drink specials, and an urban chic vibe http://barfoodsavannah.com/
Zunzi’s Take Out and Catering – gourmet salads, sandwiches, and more for lunch on the run http://www.zunzis.com/