Last night I returned from a trip to the low country, and realized I need to finish my post from my last trip down that way. A month ago I was working in Columbia, then made my way to Savannah to run the half marathon (1:49 with no training, I’ll take it). I made a pit stop at my uncle’s home in Beaufort, where they live in this great little community called Habersham. It’s a modern version of an Antebellum style town, complete with pubs, markets, fire station, and hundreds of rocking chairs on each porch wrapped home. It’s similar to Serenbe, even more like Palmetto Bluff.
My nighttime drive down was tiring, but I was rewarded with some stunning sunsets. In the darkness I almost hit some deer, who presented themselves again the following morning.
Before moving on to Savannah, I had dinner at Griffin Market with my parents, where the chef is an old family friend. I had not seen Laura Bonino in over a decade and didn’t know she was a restaurant chef, though I recall she was a very accomplished home cook when I was younger. Right after I heard of their restaurant, which they recently transplanted from DC, I read a post in Low Country Weekly by Pat Conroy, effusing signficant praise on their little Piedmontese style eatery, calling it the best Italian restaurant in the state. I was definitely intrigued.
As one who is often wary of such superlatives, I recognized Griffin was unique the moment I checked out the wine list. The large, almost entirely Italian list has a huge breadth of styles, back vintages, and they offer some funky whites from Friuli and Slovenia. In a town that largely caters to retirees, tourists, the military, and golf trips, Griffin is unlike anything else I’ve seen in the Beaufort area.
We ate a ton, and won’t detail it all, but we had many excellent starters like arancini bolognese and vitello tonnato. Fresh cut pastas were light and composed. Beef cheek ravioli were also a favorite – rich, but portioned well for a primi, and easily manageable.
Whole roasted branzino with shaved fennel was my entree, and also my favorite dish of the night. Simple, but executed to succulent perfection. Though I was battling a bad cold, I had a wonderful meal, and Laura’s husband and parter Riccardo kept some amazing wines flowing. We were refused a bill at the end of the night, though we insisted on paying. Laura and Riccardo will easily recoup this cost, as I will absolutely be back, as my parents already have.
Onward to Savannah. When we weren’t waiting in ferry lines to get our race packets (hours of fun), we stopped at The Distillery for lunch, a frequent stop for me when I’m in Savannah with friends. The food is solid enough, a somewhat standard bar menu, but with a few options like local shrimp simply but properly done which rise above. In a town that makes much money from the St. Patrick’s day cheap suds guzzling set, The Distillery has great beer options, refuting the “crap” mega-beers. This may seem obvious here in Atlanta, though Savannah is not the most progressive of dining and libation cities, but has made much progress the last few years, and the Distillery seems to get a great amount of support.
Chili cheese burger at The Distillery.
One of the most progressive new dining spots in Savannah is Local 11 Ten. Located in an old bank, it is somewhat a chop and seafood establishment, but they offer a wide variety of more interesting appetizers with components like pork belly, clams, warm olives, charcuterie, and dashi. These are very common descriptors around Atlanta these days, almost ubiquitous and uninteresting at times, but in my experience it represents change in Savannah. An individual’s taste and the food support in any community is linear – always changing, moving in a direction, hopefully forward. From my food-oriented perspective, Savannah is becoming interesting, more local, and more supportive.
This is not an insult, and I don’t mean to be smug. My tastes have changed so much, it’s hard to imagine that I wouldn’t eat shrimp ten years ago. And Atlanta isn’t perfect either. We’ve had our fair share of restaurants we would not get behind. Thomas Keller was recently in Atlanta, and talked a little about the loss of Seeger’s. His candor is very refreshing. Seeger’s was before my time (the time where I now spend thousands on things I eventually poop), and though I never ate at Soto before he departed either, I’ve since eaten at the latter’s well regarded (2 Michelin star) sushi restaurant in Manhattan, and my meal was so good I was pretty much angry that we lost such a gem.
Diatribe over. Food shots.
Clams and sausage – great stuff.
Pork belly – a miss for me. Dashi was way too salty, with no kombu flavor, and the cauliflower were raw. Not sure if that was intended, but either way it didn’t do it for me. We also split a short rib which was spot on – maybe not exciting, but precisely fork tender and comforting.
Oh, did i mention it was 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky all weekend, in November? Perfect day for a boat ride.
And a trip to the Bonna Bella Yacht Club, a waterside restaurant you can get to by car, but it’s much easier and more open container friendly to approach by boat.
Inexpensive shrimp and oysters are all I’ve ever eaten on my two visits. It’s not fine dining, or west coast kumamotos, but a bucketful of barely steamed oysters for $12, warm but not rubbery, with crackers, hot sauce, and a cold beer or three at one of the outdoors bars – a damn fine way to spend the afternoon with friends.