Say Savannah and you’re more likely to picture Spanish moss-dappled trees in old squares lined with colonial-style mansions (that may or may not be haunted) than culinary innovation. Home tours, ghost tours, and history tours tend to be the order of the day, but over the last few years, a slew of new restaurants have come onto the scene, making it entirely possible to center a trip to the city around eating and drinking well.
Fortunately, there’s none of the minimalist, faux-industrial, could-be-anywhere “AirSpace” that characterizes so many hip eateries around the world today. Savannah’s chef-driven concepts lean heavily into the stories of the spaces and neighborhoods that accommodate them; these five restaurants don’t just serve up meals, they serve experiences.
Probably the city’s buzziest spot is The Grey. The Eater 2017/18 Restaurant of the Year and Netflix Chef Table featuree serves up colorful plates of “Port City Southern” infused with global flavors. The menu—whose highlights include the beets with yogurt and apple butter, as well as the soft shell crab with chowchow and spring onions—is organized not by course but by source: the categories “pantry,” “water,” “dirt,” and “pasture” are a nod to chapter titles in a 1980s cookbook by famed chef Edna Lewis that championed seasonality in Southern cookery. The nods to history don’t stop at the menu either. The restaurant’s name points to the fact that it’s housed in a 1938 Art Deco Greyhound bus terminal and the light-filled space is littered with references to the building’s former life: leather booths are dyed blue to match the bus-carrier’s original logo, painted numbers mark original gate stations, and partitions are made of safety glass salvaged from the original skylights.
Read all about The Grey’s chef Mashama Bailey’s ideal Savannah itinerary.
Located slightly out of the typical tourist’s bounds in Savannah’s artsy Starland District is another restaurant paying homage to the space it has repurposed: Atlantic’s menu sorts its dishes of elevated comfort food under gas-station inspired headings: “Snack Aisle,” “Quick Fill,” “Tune Up,” and “Full Detail.” The menu is eclectic (including everything from dolmas to beef bourguignon) and interesting (the twist on the grilled cheese is that it’s served with a red curry tomato soup). Dubbing itself a “laid-back neighborhood eatery” with friendly service and an accessible price point, it’s mostly locals who keep the line out of the door every night of the week.
Savannah hosts the fourth outpost of Sean Brock’s farm-to-table concept focused on the use of heirloom Southern ingredients. The menu changes frequently to reflect what their hyper-local suppliers—who are held to high standards, a point I heard a manager emphasizing to a nearby purveyor—are able to provide. The winners on offer when I dined were the Pimento Cheese (served under a benne wafer construction and with pickled-in-house pickles) and the carrot cake (served with a bright green Golden Milk Ice Cream, delightfully flavored with turmeric and cardamom). The restaurant’s 230-seats are spread across multiple dining rooms in an 118-year-old, three-story (and supposedly haunted!) home in Savannah’s historic district. If the weather allows for it, choose to sit outside—the tables on the grand porch are most in keeping with the menu’s old-school and upscale Southern vibes.
Australian chef Stephen Hamile has set up a taste of Melbourne cafe culture in downtown Savannah. The Collins Quarter offers up brunch options that go well beyond the expected avocado toast: try the brioche French toast (with berry compote and passionfruit curd) or the CQ Bubble ‘n’ Squeak (a fried veggie “cake” with creamed corn, a portabella cap, poached egg, and tomato jam). The coffee menu is worth a delve too, with options like an Iced Mint Julep or Thai Iced Coffee available in addition to standard espresso drinks. Those in a rush can grab coffee-to-go from a little service window that faces the street; otherwise grab a seat outside and enjoy the bustle of the the Bull/West Oglethorpe intersection or enjoy the restaurant’s bright and spacious interiors enabled by high ceilings and big windows.
Equal parts coffee shop, gallery, and Tex-Mex cantina, Foxy Loxy cafe is the brainchild of SCAD alumna and printmaker Jennifer Jenkins. Housed in a beautifully-restored Victorian mansion, the space acts as a community hub, hosting regular live music acts and showcasing a rotating set of prints available for purchase on its walls. It might be a bit of a struggle to find an empty table amongst all the SCAD students parked there for a day studying, but the tacos and horchata are worth the wait.