Savannah area


This Memorial Day we headed out to Savannah, not having been in ages (in fact, the last Savannah trip we took predates my last camera). It was an emotional necessity. After arriving, I pretty much ate and collapsed, sleeping hard almost all of the night. I want to compose my thoughts and offer specific suggestions in a couple follow up posts, but for now, I’m trying to sort through thoughts and such and talk about more general issues in terms of a Savannah trip.

Sights and sounds unlike most American cities.

Sights and sounds unlike most American cities.

If you’re looking for a cheap place to stay near Savannah, your best bet is out by the airport. Hotels close to River Street tend to charge around $200/day during the peak (summer) season. You can beat this in part by coming off peak (e.g. February and March), but I can’t promise you any bargains anymore. The inexpensive hotel I used to use is now a grassy field.

Of course, with a 4 hour drive from Atlanta to Savannah, Savannah is suitable for a one day tour. Drive in, fight for parking, and leave, either to home or parts north and south.

If you want places to eat that appeal less to the tourist and more to the foodie in you, the walk along Bay Street will be more accommodating than River Street itself. Yes, there are bargains along River Street but you have to look. Nice seafood places tend to run high 20s to low 30s for their fare, and after having great experiences in Tybee Island and indifferent experiences along the River (the Cotton Exchange being a welcome exception), best to save your seafood dollars for a jaunt towards the Island.

I highly recommend the Discovery Map rendition of Savannah, and you can get one in advance here. Don’t click on the state. The Savannah map is in the dropdown below. If you’re already in Savannah, you might check out Dub’s Pub, because that’s where I picked up my copy of the map. Another resource is the work of Michael Karpovage, a Roswell GA resident. His Savannah Historic District Illustrated Map“map of Savannah is available on Amazon.com.

Connect Savannah is a tabloid format publication that appears to mirror Creative Loafing in many regards. When we arrived their “Best of Savannah” issue was on the news stands. They have a web site, and “Best of Savannah” has a prominent place on their front page currently.

Almost completely over the top are the candy stores along River Street. If you have a child from age 6 to 60, it is very hard to resist Savannah’s Candy Kitchen or River Street Sweets. These have become must stops when we show, and when my daughter was little, she cried so hard when we were trying to leave, it took us another half hour to get home.

Yes, well known Atlanta foodies with small children, I’m waiting to hear about the response when your youngsters see the place.

img_6478

The collection of children's books here is phenomenal.

The collection of children’s books here is phenomenal.

Bookstores: There is a spot called Books on Bay that deals in antiques. In particular, they are very interested in old children’s books and series. Things like old Oz books, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and to my once 12 year old mind, a surprisingly large collection of Tom Swift books of various and sundry kinds. I was a voracious reader of Tom Swift Jr and have always held a certain desire to read a few of Tom Swift Sr’s books. They have quite a few of these there. Yes, Grant Goggans, if you like comics, I suspect you could get lost in this store.

img_6486

Biggest surprise in Savannah? In many respects, It might been Dub’s Pub, also called Dubs, a Public House. It was near where we were staying, easy to access via stairs and an alleyway. They are advertised on Urban Spoon as a gastropub, though it was hard to tell when we went. They were down to only tacos when I arrived. Their beer selections are good, however, and they sell beer flights. A flight is 5 different selections of beer, 4 ounces each, all for a reasonable price. I had never had Tybee Blonde before, and sandwiching that between a Bells and a Allagash wasn’t so bad at all.

Pork and shrimp tacos from Dub's Pub.  The shrimp, if I recall, had a delightfully spicy bite to it.

Pork and shrimp tacos from Dub’s Pub. The shrimp, if I recall, had a delightfully spicy bite to it.

The tacos at Dubs were really good. The vibe is more that of an upscale sports bar, with some quality food. I didn’t eat enough to pass judgement on “gastropub or not”, but nothing I saw or had would lead me to think otherwise.

It was nice enough that on a quiet day, I’d not have any issue taking my family to Dub’s.

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen
225 East River Street
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 233-8411

Savannah Candy Kitchen on Urbanspoon

River Street Sweets
13 East River Street
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 233-6220

River Street Sweets on Urbanspoon

Dubs a Public House
225 West River St
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 200-3652

Dubs a Public House on Urbanspoon

PS – Savannah Red reviews Dubs in an article titled “Low Tide and Zombies at Dub’s Pub“.

By the time we were in the line for Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, at 9:35am, the line stretched half way around the block and the front of the restaurant could not be seen. We had missed getting in for dinner the previous day, because of course we could clean up first and then walk over to it.  But by the time everyone was ready, there was no more seating to be had.

My daughter was really the driving force for this. She wanted to go, and badly. When we got our hotel room, we asked in the hotel office where it was located. We were told it was at the corner of Congress and Whittaker (an easy walk from the Riverfront).  For Lady and Sons, unless you have a party for 10, you have to line up and get your reservation in advance in person.

So we came back to the hotel room and plotted. We ate the continental breakfast the hotel offered and then realized that my wife takes her time dressing, and that the rest of us had better get seating. So, we made it into the long, long line, worked our way to the front, grabbed the second of the two time slots that were left (11 am or 1:45 pm) and then went back to the hotel to kill time and play tourist on the Riverfront.

When they give you your reservation, they tell you to line up 15 minutes before your appointment, but we showed up maybe 1:20 or so. They took our name, and told us to go into the waiting area through the gift shop. Now, if you’ve ever been to the Riverfront of Savannah, you’ll see Paula’s face, via a magazine or curio, in every single shop. And in Paula’s gift shop, it’s a Paula Deen flashback on steroids, because there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of items, all with Paula’s face (or sayings) on them. Thankfully our stay in the waiting area was short.

We were seated in a 3rd floor corner on the back side of the restaurant, where we had a window, a lengthwise view of a bar, a view of several nearby chairs and stools. The window view would have been better if they weren’t doing construction on the adjacent block. About 20′ in front of us was a large metal wheel. When we asked where it came from, the waiter said the restaurant was a converted hardware store.  Even though they were using the old elevator, they weren’t using the old pulley anymore.

Our waiter was excellent. We all chose the buffet because for all of us, it was about the southern vegetables.  And there was absolutely no disappointment in them. My daughter’s verdict on the macaroni and cheese was that it was “awesome”. The black eyed peas, in my opinion, could have stood alone as a dish by themselves. Yes, they were that good. The collard greens were also really really good. I went back for seconds, and my plate was basically half peas, half collards. My wife was taking her time with the green beans, and my daughter came back with the mashed potatoes. The chicken was also very good, but the vegetables were to die for.

The buffet is ended with desserts, either peach cobbler, banana pudding, or butter cakes. They were all good, though my wife wished she could have gotten a larger dessert portion. I understand her feelings, but the buffet was all you can eat and people were really eating. And $13.99, for the amount of food served and where it was served, is actually a pretty fair price.

Menus for this restaurant are online.

Verdict: This is one restaurant that is everything it is cracked up to be. Really good meats, vegetables to die for, excellent service. I don’t say many restaurants are exceptional, but this one is, without qualifications.

Lady and Sons
108 W Congress St
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 233-2600

Lady & Sons on Urbanspoon

Tip:

If you line up in the morning, you can get reservations for lunch or for dinner. No need to wait until the evening to get dinner reservations.

We’ve been traveling a bit – the first vacation devoted to something other than relatives in some years, mostly up and down the Atlantic Coast. The best of the restaurants we ate at was Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, but I’ll reserve that for a separate review. The others I’ll concatenate here, and also update the boonie pepper status, as they have sprouted.

boonie pepper sprouts.

boonie pepper sprouts.

The details:  The seeds were soaked overnight in water, and the Jiffy Peat pellets were watered with warm water with a little hydrogen peroxide. I added a tablespoon of 3% to 370 ml of water, but I suspect that’s really too much (I’ve seen a teaspoon in a pint or quart recommended). The seeds have been incubating 13 days in a 12 pellet Jiffy peat container, sometimes in the sun, but the last 5 days just near a window, no direct sunlight, using Park Seed’s windowsill heating strip.  The window sill was getting so cold it was counterproductive, whereas warm and near some sun seemed to make more sense to me. If I can get 4 good plants fully grown, I’m in business.

We went up and down the coast the past few days, going as far north as Myrtle Beach, SC and as far south as Tybee Island, GA. We touched on a number of interesting places to eat, but as we’re largely a Atlanta area blog these will be minireviews.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle is not a pure white sand beach, but a light brown beach. It’s long and large, with hotels as far as the eye can see both north and south. Hotels were advertising prices as low as $27.00 a day. There is a lot to see and do, but mostly my wife wanted to watch waves. There was a restaurant near our hotel, called the Pier. If you walked to the pier just north of this one, there was another restaurant there named Pier 14 (getting original here). My wife ate at the Pier. There were decent shrimp in her po boy but the bread was spongy.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Ginger Ales

I’ve been fascinated by spicy ginger ales ever since I saw a special by Charles Kuralt where he visited a ginger ale manufacturer in Blenheim SC. I know now that Vernor’s has a bit more bite than generic ginger ale, and that if I can get Stewart’s ginger beer (also described here and here), then I can have a nice spicy treat. But what I ran into in a Piggly Wiggly in Myrtle Beach is Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, which in the version I had started smooth and ended with a really nice kick (I wonder what C. Kuralt drank?). For those interested in the comparison between the various ginger ales, there is some discussion of it on Yelp.

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

Crabby Mike’s Calabash Buffet, 290 Highway 17 N, Surfside Beach, SC

The nicest thing about Crabby Mike’s buffet is the way they treat people while waiting to get into the buffet. The DJ outside, along with a stack of hula hoops, is really a nice touch. It allowed impatient children of all ages to burn off energy and enjoy themselves while waiting for their meal. Once inside, the menu has no price for the buffet, other than “market price”, so I suspect their prices go up and down as crab and fish become more or less expensive. We were charged $23.99 each for our buffet.

Crabby Mike’s is really big, with three or four step tiers to the restaurant, and in the middle, 7 large islands with food on them, a wall side kiosk where you can get all kinds of fried and grilled fish, and then desserts along one wall. There was a lot of space devoted to snow crab legs and crab clusters, and one section devoted entirely to crab claws. Crab legs and clams seemed to go really fast. They had a mixed collection of clams and mussels and the mussels were enormous.

The food? Mostly good. The snow crabs were saltier than I expected, but certainly edible. My wife went back for seconds on crab. My daughter stuck to the crab claws when she could, because it wasn’t as crowded. There was a lot more seafood, a lot more southern style vegetables than the typical Atlanta based Chinese and crab buffets, but in some respects, the ambience isn’t any different. Some people were in there eating nothing but crab (and throwing half of that away).

The most surprising items I had at Crabby Mike’s were their apple stix. I wasn’t expecting the rush of cinnamon when I bit into those at all. I enjoyed those a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. The food is good, and Crabby Mike’s will make your wait painless.

Crabby Mike's Calabash on Urbanspoon

Sticky Fingers, 341 Johnny Dodds Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC

We knew about this restaurant before we ever saw one, due to their excellent Habanero Hot sauce, which partly replaced our use of the Texas based Stubbs BBQ sauce. We had eaten there once, while staying in Charleston, and we ate there again while driving south along highway 17. This section of highway 17 is just south of the land of the sea grass baskets, little kiosks littering the road selling hand made woven baskets.

The food at Sticky Fingers was good. They have excellent sauces, their chicken fingers are more fist sized than finger sized. Sticky Finger’s ribs are tender but there really is little if any smoke in them. There are better ribs at Mad Dogs in Conyers.

Verdict: Recommended. Meats are good, but the excellent sauces are really the star of Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers - Mount Pleasant on Urbanspoon

Tybee Island

We had climbed the lighthouse before, but never really found the beaches, until this trip. It’s not as developed as Myrtle Beach, not as many things to see and do, but the beach is whiter, if smaller, and when we were there, the waves weren’t as bad and the weather was warmer.

AJ”s Dockside Restaurant, 1315 Chatham Ave, Tybee Island, GA

If you get far enough south on Tybee, this restaurant can be found by driving as west as you can. That’s how I found it, that and a peek at their Urban Spoon page.  The Urban spoon reviews recommended arriving just before sunset, as the view is excellent, but we had no such luck.  AJ’s has inside and outside seating, and I suspect during the spring and fall that the outside seating is the way to go. AJ’s is an honest to god hole-in-the-wall restaurant, as the inside seating is in line with their bar, while outside seating spills off onto a pier nearby.

My daughter and my wife had AJ’s po boy. I had a cup of their crab stew, and a crab burger, where instead of beef or chicken, you get eight ounces of crab meat patty on your burger bun. My wife substituted a house salad for her fries. That substitution came at no cost.

The short of it? Everything was good, but while I liked my crab burger (the patty was twice the size of my bun), I loved the crab stew. It was thick with crab meat, rich with cream. I told my wife if we come back, I’m getting a bowl of the stew. The salad had perfectly ripe tomatoes, the shrimp on the po boys were good, and the bread on the po boys was both fresh and a little toasted, as opposed to spongy.

The menu for AJ’s is available on their web site.

Verdict: Recommended, good to very good. We’ll have to get a bowl of the crab stew when we come back.

Aj's Dockside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

When you’re walking the riverfront of Savannah Georgia, and your feet hurt, your body aches, and your stomach is asking for a little attention, this restaurant delivers. For one, the inside walls are beautiful: cracked masonry that reminds me of my grandfather’s houses, or a drive into Amish country in Pennsylvania. For another, the food they serve comes at a cost that doesn’t induce immediate fear and panic.

This was our third visit to this restaurant, overall, and there was a wait this time, a short one. And once we were seated there was an argument as to whether we had sat in the exact same seat the last time. That ended when the waiter came. I ordered the stuffed flounder, my daughter and wife ordered shrimp po boys. We also ordered a soup to begin, the crab chowder.

The chowder isn’t the pure white you might associate with a New England clam chowder. Instead there is an ounce of yellow in the color, along with bits of potato and small bits of crab. I liked it, my daughter really liked it, my wife didn’t like it – there was a ‘taste’ in it, she said.  But my wife is picky about her food, and even more so when milk or cream is in food.

The po boys were large, not huge, with several large shrimp each. They came with a potato side (french fries, or baked potato). My dish came with a steamed vegetable side as well as a potato. The fish in my dish was a bit more football shaped than I anticipated, but that didn’t affect the taste. The flounder was stuffed with deviled crab, covered with red spice and tasty. My wife finished her sandwich. My daughter was feeling picky, so she ate the shrimp, but otherwise picked at her food. Maybe she was thinking of Savannah’s Candy Kitchen a little further down the street.

We ended with a bourbon pecan pie, which wasn’t bad at all, though I was wishing it were a little richer in pecans.

Service is largely good here. Our waitress was attentive and when we were asking about desserts, quite helpful.

Verdict: The Cotton Exchange delivers reliably good food for someone prowling the riverfront. Though nothing on Savannah’s riverfront is cheap, you won’t feel as if you’ve overpaid for the scenery here.

Cotton Exchange on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers