Sunday, November 13, 2005

Restaurant Review: Savannah, Georgia Food Scene

17Hundred and 90 (307 E. Presidents St., 912-231-8888)
Firefly Cafe (321 Habersham St.,912-234-1971)
The Crab Shack (40 Estill Hammock Rd,Tybee Island,912-786-9857)
The Olde Pink House (23 Abercorn St., 912-232-4262)

For a city of such moderate size, Savannah, Ga. boasts a wide array of restaurants, bars and lounges, all nestled amidst that incomparable Deep South ambiance. For a taste of truly Olde Georgia, try dinner at 17Hundred and 90, tucked away in the basement of Dixie's oldest operating inn. Original brick walls and oak beams, adorned with Murano glass sconces and chandeliers, immediately set the mood of historical elegance. Superb service and a solid menu of perfected standards heightens the experience.

My mother (seated above in Bonaventure Cemetary) started with the escargots ($8.75), simply prepared but with a unique addition of tomatoes. Tiny mushrooms throughout the dish add a woodsy compliment to the earthiness of the snails. I opted for the crab cakes ($9.75) and was not disappointed with two thick patties, lightly fried and drizzled with remoulade. The star of the meal though was the quartered duck ($17.95), fork-tender and shellacked with a port-lingonberry reduction. Side dishes of mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus were outstanding as well. The wine list is comprehensive though geared towards the higher end.

Locals love to lunch at Firefly Cafe, though tourists will enjoy not only the food but the outside table service on one of Savannah's loveliest shaded squares. The brunch menu is admitedly small, and based almost entirely around egg dishes, but luckily the offerings are unique and health-concious. A "stir-fry" of egg whites and wild rice, piled atop local baby greens, tastes far better than it might sound. Far from puritanical the cooks at Firefly wisely sprinkle the quirky mixture with crumbled goat cheese and dried cherries for a bold morning meal. Also recommended is the sizable spinach and crab omelette; mine was properly cooked (softly), loaded with fresh crustacean and drenched in a fresh hollandaise sauce. Most dishes are served with seasoned grits and a local speciality, the hoecake (nothing special though, other than a non-sweetened pancake). The al fresco charm is probably the best reason to brunch (or dine) at Firefly Cafe, but the food stands up well enough for a light meal or snack.

A short scenic jaunt down Victory Drive (the longest palm-lined street in the world!) will take you towards Tybee Island, a small outcrop of land open to both salt marshes and the Atlantic Ocean. On such a marsh, spread throughout a compound that might at first glance be a survivalist camp, lies the legendary Crab Shack (and its several freestanding bars and attractions, amongst which is a gator pool). As numerous cats stroll amongst the tables, and locals and tourists alike gather to scarf down platters of wildly fresh seafood, the atmosphere begins to soak into the meal itself. Who knew dining under Christmas lights in a swamp could be this enchanting? With a menu so vast it would take days to plow through it, sticking with the simple platters is probably a good idea. I loved the Low Country flavors of the Deviled Crab plate($10.99), which comes with two perfectly seasoned specimens and delicious tangy coleslaw. Salted and buttered potatoes are a remarkable accompaniment to the spicy crabs. Another good choice, for a lighter appetite, was the crab stew and shrimp salad special($6.95). Naturally beer is on offer, but also a decent selection of moderately priced wines (mostly whites).

Rounding off this culinary tour was a special treat - dinner at The Olde Pink House, the only restaurant in Savannah set in a historic mansion (18th century). From the gorgeous dining rooms spread throughout the first floor, all softly lit with candles and period chandeliers, to the rollicking, fire-lit tavern beneath, the Pink House screams destination dining. Luckily the food lives up to the grand surroundings (so often not the case as we know). When in Savannah, do as the Georgians, and start with the appetizer of two fried green tomato slices, drizzled with a sweet corn sauce ($7.95). My entree of apricot-glazed grouper ($23.95) was phenomenal; served whole, the flat but wide fish was scored and pan-fried with the lightest of pecan crusting, and sided with that Mason-Dixon standard, Hoppin' John.