Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

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The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

The King & I

7098 Hodgson Memorial Dr. Savannah, GA 31406(912) 355-2100kingandisavannah.com

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The name of this place had me feeling all nostalgic as I entered, because way back in the late 70’s/early 80’s the very first Thai restaurant I ever tried was a place called The King and I in Boston and I remember loving the pad thai out it! That said, this place has no relation to the one in Boston. And I mean NO relation. From service to décor to food, this place is like the Danny Devito to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Twins.

Starting at the biggest pain point, the service is horribly slow. As is the kitchen. And even the dishwashers apparently, either that or they are oddly stingy with their silverware, causing us to not only ask multiple times for serving spoons and knives, but even having to debate the necessity of the utensils with our server.

But as you know, I can forgive a lot if the food is great. Unfortunately I was given very few reasons to make amends. Both the Summer and Spring rolls were decent, but that’s somewhat to be expected. I’m not sure I ever recall having bad ones.

And as for the main dishes, the pad Thai was oily (pictured), the panang scallops were over-cooked, the green curry with chicken was okay and the chicken with broccoli was rather bland.

Sigh. I miss Boston.

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The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

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The Ultimate Pork Chop

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While Ted Allen claims this distinction should go to Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, NY, he is flat out wrong. I’m sorry Ted, but perhaps you need to get your prescription checked because your “Queer Eye” isn’t seeing so clearly. In New York City alone there is better. The Little Owl quite handily tops Vinegar Hill with its chop.

Elizabeth on 37th – Savannah, GA

But as long as we’re talking serious chops, let’s get to the choppiest? Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, Georgia. Now this restaurant is no stranger to praise, consistently ranked among the top three in town and winner of a James Beard. Well, that’s all nice to have, but now they can add an Ultimate from the Ferocious Foodie to their list! I know, they have probably been sitting on pins and needles awaiting my decree, but the wait is over.

What sets Elizabeth apart from the rest isn’t that it’s perfectly cooked, although that’s obviously table stakes, it’s that the accompaniments aren’t the usual suspects. No potatoes. No green vegetable. No apples or cinnamon. Not even sauce. Just creamy, dreamy five cheese mac and brilliant, refreshing red cabbage slaw that pulled your palate in so many directions per bite it was like tongue-yoga. Which sounds rather uncomfortable, but just think how good you feel after stretching. That’s how your mouth will be, sighing wistfully at your empty plate as it recalls what it just experienced.

Chocolat by Adam Turoni

323 W Broughton St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 335-2914 •  chocolatat.com

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If only one could actually eat with their eyes, then perhaps Turoni would be worthy of its price tag, not to mention its colossally inflated rating on Yelp. But unfortunately the best part of the experience ends the moment you exit the shop. And it is an experience, I’ll given ’em that.

Tall, gorgeous glass cases filled with these delectable looking jewels (pictured) flank you as you enter. Each grouping of chocolates accompanied by a card that describes the complexity within. Then, armed with a steel tray and tongs, you are sent out to collect your own box of goodies throughout the shop. It really is terrific concept.

But here’s the rub… Only about two of the ten we purchased were worth the calories, as the overwhelming majority fell way short of their promise. The flavors just lacked the impact one hopes for when you bite into a morsel of chocolate. The habanero wasn’t spicy enough. The caramels weren’t gooey enough. And the chocolates weren’t rich enough. I don’t know about you, but subtlety has no place in the land of desserts as far as I’m concerned. Go big or go home. Now I’m not saying that all desserts have to be heavy or rich, but I AM saying that if I’m going to put my health at risk to try your dessert, the least you could do is send my endorphins on the ride of their life!

So personally I would say skip Adam Turoni and walk a few more blocks over to Leopold’s Ice Cream, a dessert that will easily be worth every last calorie. Plus, the exercise will help compensate for the added poundage.

If you do stay, go for the one with musical notes on it. It’s half white chocolate, half dark, with hazelnuts in the middle. And proceeds from its sale go to the local philharmonic. A distant second was the one made with Brazilian coffee. Beyond those, it’s amateur hour. So load up on those two, or be warned.

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Rocks on the Roof

102 W Bay St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 721-3800bohemianhotelsavannah.com

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Ahh, the magic of photography. I mean just one look at this picture and you’re probably in your car heading to the Bohemian Hotel right now. But I assure you that it looks absolutely NOTHING like this in person. Maybe for a scant 15 minutes at golden hour when you’re really, really drunk. For the other 23 hours and 45 minutes a day it looks like a black expanse over the Savannah River filled with swampy brush, industrial warehouses and an ugly rooftop Hyatt courtyard to the right. On the plus side there is a nice fire pit on the right to help distract you.

Back on the downside, the decor inside feels like it was decorated in the 80’s and the crowd is not exactly what one would call inspiring. Sure, there was an occasional promising couple here or there, but for the most part you felt like you were in Compton sipping Gin and Juice. If only the drinks were as tasty as that, though. And I took special offense to their “Ultimate Bloody Mary,” using a term, MY TERM, to modify something so unworthy it only served to dilute the meaning of the word itself, feeding into consumer skepticism. making my own “Ultimates” section less credible by osmosis. But I assure you, my Ultimate Bloody Mary will not disappoint (coming soon; see Burger and Barrel).

And as piss-poor as the Bloody Mary was, their bellini was a pea in piss-poor pod. Flavorless and unfinishable. In fact, we left both drinks stranded, half full.

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The Collins Quarter

151 Bull St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-4147 thecollinsquarter.com

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This Australian transplant and relative newcomer is off to a pretty popular start because the place was packed from the time we arrived at 1:00pm to the time we left at 2:30pm. And for good reason, Collin has pretty great menu, cool decor and very friendly service, albeit a bit slow, but I’m guessing that was mostly due to how busy it was- a good problem to have if you are Mister Collin.

A lesser ideal problem is that they are a bit hit and miss.

Among the hits I would like to give a round of applause to the burger. It’s very, very good. Made from ground brisket, served on a brioche and topped with an onion aioli. But if you want to make it truly transcendent, I recommend adding bacon and taking that slaw on the “side” and putting it “on top.” There is a certain alchemy that takes place between great slaw and great meat that never ceases to amaze me. From Virgil’s pulled pork sandwich in New York City to Elizabeth on 37th’s pork chop with mac and slaw it’s a classic combination that could give Oreo and milk a run for its money.

Another apparent hit across the table was the Aussie Brecky. Basically a kitchen sink of brunchy-type things. Fried eggs, bacon, andouilli sausage, peppers, onions, etc… I only tried the bacon from it, but as bacon goes, and if it was any indicator of the dish at large, I’d say it was pretty darn good.

The miss, however was “The Catch.” A rotating dish based on the local fish market bounty. On that day it was flounder, set amidst fried eggs, potatoes and few other odds and ends that sounded better on the menu than they tasted in the field. And this is after having to add both salt and pepper to try and eke some flavor out of it.

But while we’re on the menu and talking about things sounding good, while I didn’t actually try it, there is a S’mores hot chocolate that has my name on it the next time I’m in town. It sounds pretty insane. I also hear their lavender latte is crazy sick as well.

3 teeth

Sandfly BBQ

8413 Ferguson Ave. Savannah, GA 31406 • (912) 356-5463 sandflybbq.com

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If it weren’t for word of mouth and Yelp, you’d probably never think twice about stepping in here. Not only is it located in a tiny strip mall, but it looks almost like a poor man’s fast food joint on a respirator- not unlike several of the centurion patrons who managed to gobble down bites in between sips of oxygen from the air hose under their nostrils. I’m guessing they are either try to get into heaven quicker, or they just want a little taste of it before they settle down there more permanently.

Now I’m not sure I would go as far as to call Sandfly’s BBQ heavenly, but there are clearly those who would. That said, it most certainly is worth the visit, provided you don’t mind the Diners, Drive ins and Dives type decor. And to be fair, I’m not even sure if it’s enough of a dive to even make it onto Guy Fieri’s radar.

But the food doesn’t disappoint, after all, it doesn’t get packed by 6pm because it’s bad. To be fair it’s only about 8 tables, but I’m guessing the case would be the same even if they had twenty. So what’s all the fuss? Well, the brisket is solid, as is the pulled pork. And they offer three sauces on every table, one hot, one sweet, one mustardy. All three are good, but my favorite was actually the sweet.

The stars for me were the sausage with peppers and onions, which went killer with the mustardy sauce and the baked beans, which needed nothing but a mouth to call home. A distant third worth getting is also the fried okra. Nothing special, but since I’m a Yankee transplant, I’m a bit of a sucker for the dish.

On the mediocre side of things were the onion rings and the collard greens. And bringing up the rear was the abysmal, watery coleslaw. Sorry, I feel the need to be especially harsh on the slaw because Savannah is the site of two of the best slaws I think I’ve ever had, between Elizabeth on 37th and The Collins Quarter.

And last but not least, the biggest disappointment of the night was the one thing I never even got to try. So hyped up was their infamous coconut cake, “made from scratch everyday.” Well, apparently not EVERY day, because they didn’t bother to make it the day I went. Grudge holder? Perhaps. But not enough to keep me from going back.

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

212 E Broughton St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 234-4442leopoldsicecream.com

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Once upon a time I used to work at one of the best ice cream parlors in the country, East India in Winter Park, Florida. The inventors of Oreo Ice Cream. I know according to Wikipedia Emack & Bolio’s in Boston claims they did it in 1975 and Huggs McShane from Portland claims they did it in 1978 but I can assure you they were both behind East India who had already been serving it for years by 1974.

The reason I bring this up is that I think it gives me unofficial ice cream expert credentials. So, if a court case were to ever break out over ice cream, I believe that I could serve as an expert witness if need be. Thus, it is with great pride and self-proclaimed expertise that I give a resounding two thumbs up to Leopold’s. Even with all the hype, Leopold’s sailed over the bar. Every flavor we tried was a work of frozen magic. Disney’s Elsa, eat your heart out.

My favorite was the Rum Bisque, made with a serious doses of actual rum, making it a clever way to circumvent open container laws. Another clever touch is the addition of hazelnut macaroon chunks throughout, making it more addictive than the alcohol within, if that’s even possible.

A very close second was the Honey & Almond (pictured). So rich with honey, if your eyes were closed you’d swear your tongue was halfway up the ass of a queen bee. But in a good way. It’s just awesome. Almost hard to believe how pure the flavor is, but I guess it’s to be expected from a town that prides itself so strongly on the sticky stuff.

And last but not least, the chocolate chocolate chip. A bit less inventive than the first two, but every bit as delish in its own right. Made with decadent chunks of dark chocolate folded into a rich, creamy ball of cocoa bliss. Screw Coco Puffs. This will make you certifiable for certain.

***Okay, year two and once again we made the pilgrimage to Leopold’s, this time trying a few new flavors, all of which proven to only further solidify my love for this former Hollywood Producer turned ice cream tycoon. The best of the new three being the Frozen Hot Chocolate, complete with marshmallows, of course. It’s basically Rocky Road without the rocks (walnuts). Next for me would be the Pistachio, loaded to the gills with chunks of actual pistachios. And finally, the plain old chocolate. It’s good for what it is, but a touch boring comparatively. But you really can’t go wrong here, no matter what you choose, so feel free to let your cravings guide you.

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