To ease our re-entry back to a unseasonably rainy NW summer from the south, we decided to visit Nawlin’s style Toulouse Petit in Lower Queen Anne for their “Best Happy Hour in the Nation”. Rather boastful title, but they do deliver a wide variety of eats and drinks – most of which are $5. A lot of happy hour offerings are of lesser quality and/or things are small quantity but heavy and rich – but not here – and all that we tried were very, very good. They seem to have just as much detail and care of their happy hour menu, as they do their larger portion dinner menu. With variety means you can try several items, especially if sharing, as we did. The only complaint I had heard about their menu was about the breading on the fried green tomatoes, so we skipped those and tried the delicate fried catfish with remoulade sauce, a flavorful beet-walnut-green bean-feta salad with a citrus dressing, and a lovely, earthy bruschetta with peas, artichoke and truffle (then again, I pretty much like anything with a little truffle oil). Shawn also seemed very happy with his sliders too. In homage to New Orleans, I went with the Sazerac cocktail, and it was one of the best ones I’ve had – just a hint of anise, which can sometimes overpower this beverage. A lovely evening to be had for those on a budget.
When I started this blog, I never really thought I would need to give mixed or bad reviews – there are just too many good places to choose from in this city, and I could just let the others fall by the wayside, and as my southern upbringing suggested “don’t say anything if you don’t have something nice to say”. However, Le Gourmand is one of those restaurants that has been elevated in my mind for years – they were doing local, seasonal, farm-to-table in Seattle long before any of those buzzwords were commonplace – and I have always wanted to have a reason to be able to sit down at one of their tables. Randomly, we recently got a Living Social coupon for Le Gourmand, and jumped at the deal (if you don’t know about Living Social or Groupon – definitely look them up – half price deals offered every day on all sorts of things in your city). When a reason to celebrate came up – Shawn’s new job, Yay! – we decided to head on over, with some buddies who had also gotten the deal. First, when we mentioned that we both had coupons, they didn’t allow but “1 per table” – some fine print we apparently missed. A little disappointing, but still – this is one of the best places in town, right? After a lot of banter from our waiter/somolier who was a font of obscure and obtuse wine and pairing knowledge, we made our entrée and wine decisions, and settled on sharing a starter per couple. Our salad was lovely and fresh, with a simple citrus vinaigrette and grilled squash – but the ‘market price’ not quoted when ordered, turned out to be $18 (bit steep for greens, right? – especially when all other starters were around $10 for things including veal, or crawfish). Another chink, but we were still enjoying ourselves – until our entrées took quite a while longer than the natural flow of things. One of our friends happened to ask one of the wait staff about it after what seemed like a reasonable amount of time (mind you – all of us at the table have been in food service, and are sympathetic and forgiving folks, so she asked as respectfully as possible). The waitress snapped at her in a snarky tone, about there being only one person prepping food – all understandable, but could have been handled differently, or at least a heads up would have been better. Our food came out moments after that, and we settled in to our dishes. On this I have to say that my dish was incredibly good – trout stuffed with zucchini, and an earthy green sauce, with hints of mint. The braised greens and potatoes for the table were also quite good. Shawn felt his duck dish was too sweet, and the others thought their food was good, but perhaps not the layered flavors you would expect from $40-48 entrées. We walked away from our night a little bruised by the smug waiters, and somewhat disappointed in the actual food. This was very sad for us all after the build up we had given this place for years. We decided to go elsewhere for a little dessert.
It was a wonderful wander around the south, and Savannah was a great place to have it come to a close, with its beautiful squares, good food, and enough amped up sultry heat to hold us for when we returned to the chilly Seattle summer. While there are definitely specifics to recommend, I believe that Savannah’s charm is best realized strolling around the original planned city’s squares. Checking out the decentralized campus buildings, museum and galleries of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is a good enough excuse as any to find yourself all over the town, and the squares are the in between. SCAD has put a definite modern art mark on a layered historical town – and the juxtaposition is great. Make sure to stop by the shopSCAD store for students and recent grads wares. And stroll along Broughton for some good stores and window shopping, like Savannah Bee Company. While strolling around downtown, stop in to fortify at the tried and true Neopolitan style pizza at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s.
I believe my favorite southern-style sit down meal was at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. An old-school boarding house that has held on to its dining tradition of serving up lunch for folks at communal tables. A line starts gathering before 11am for folks to cycle through – 10 to a table at a time. Shortly after sitting down, the barrage of bowls starts – everything from squash, collards and beans to the famous fried chicken and breads. Faced with the tough choice between the cherry pie and banana pudding – go with the banana pudding for its quintessential southern grandma goodness. Earnest, yummy and worth every minute you wait outside.
Another favorite food spot in the Savannah area was on our visit to Tybee Island, and after some good beach strolling, we found the Tybee Island Social Club, a brand new (at the time) taco restaurant. Calling it that just doesn’t quite do it justice, but they do know how to make some incredibly delicious tacos and other Mexican fare with a slight upscale coastal twist, while keeping it economical. My favorites were the ceviche and house made chips, and the fish taco with pear puree. Put together with a design eye, and live music from time to time, this place had a great feel for some good hanging out.
Back in the Day Bakery was our favorite morning stop – incredible muffins and decadent breakfast bread pudding – and the highly recommended cupcakes for later that day. A great space in a well designed cluster of buildings, with tucked away courtyards for sitting a spell. A little off the central downtown – well worth the stroll or drive.
Savannah is said to be a city built on its dead – while it sounds somewhat macabre, the city embraces it wholeheartedly, and has a whole ghost tours industry to celebrate it. We decided to jump on board for one of those tours for a little history and camp as the evening cooled off, choosing the Hearst Ghost Tour. Meeting up with the hearse around 10pm on River Street sets the tone and our guide was a great mix of funny and campy. Maybe not for the serious history buff, but an interesting take on one of the oldest cities in the south, and all of its layers.
Ahhh… Charleston… my kind of place – a total foodie town! As long as I can remember, the regional food of Charleston, SC has been a standout in the south. An incredible convergence of forces – everything from the Gullah and Huguenot cuisines and soul food to the seafood that is available locally, mixed with chefs educated in every tradition from french to southern – a beautiful local cuisine is created. I was in heaven, and it is worth every calorie to eat through this town.
We started at McCrady’s – one of those evenings that you know in the moment that you will remember it forever. We sat in the bar area of this James Beard award-winner – a well-done renovation of a two-story covered space between two very old brick buildings (top, middle) – and had incredible snacks (top, right) and prohibition-era inspired cocktails (top, left). How can you pass up a Corpse Reviver whiskey-drink, for example (front)? Everything was simple and straightforward, but elevated at the same time. I don’t think you could go wrong with anything on their menu. Of similar caliber was the next night at FIG (another Beard winner). We stopped by for cocktails and dessert – both of which were excellent (bottom, left), peach crumble with creme fraiche ice cream (in front) and sticky toffee pudding with maple ice cream (in back). YUM!
The Hominy Grill was recommended to me from every angle, and worth all the hype. A beloved, classic southern-cooking cafe, with all the requisite elements that one would think – somehow far better, fresher, and tasty than imagined from the straightforward sounding menu. All sorts of southern goodness to be had – such as boiled peanuts brought as a snack, heaping vegetable plates, and catfish sandwiches to the special okra and shrimp beignets and fried grits I had the day we went. Their desserts looked just as enticing, but we saved some room for the Sugar Bakeshop down the street. Also worth all the hype – this Brooklyn/NYC transplant found a great little space a few blocks away from Hominy to peddle his beautiful confections. We had wonderful cupcakes, but they were in close competition for our favorite as the local-made Sweetteeth chocolate we picked up for later.
Bowen’s Island Restaurant A low-country establishment in the inter-coastal waterways between Charleston and Folly Beach serving up “steamed” oysters (roasted over a fire), among other seafood treats, for 60 years. We got there off-season for oysters, and a mere 3 days before the owner opened his new space, but I still loved my shrimp and grits, and the ambiance of this slice of country. One of my favorite random-happenings of the southern road trip was when the owner, upon learning we were architects and knew about green building, toured us around the new space for half an hour – where he is pushing the sustainable angle pretty hard: green roof, hardcore water conservation, and some things, like no AC and naturally ventilation, were pretty impressive to pull off in a restaurant in Charleston! All built on top of the original shack and oyster steam pit, that burned down a year or two ago. He was a great character, and has taken serious care to honor his grandparents legacy.
Since we only had two days, and there is so much architecture and history to cover in Charleston, we did a history tour. You can choose from walking or van tours, various themes of focus, etc., and we found our tour guide from Charleston Tours to be quite charming. One of those quintessential Charlestonians that perpetually sound a bit grand and a bit tipsy – all with the mischievous glint in his eye. I was doing more listening than photo-taking, but suffice it to say if you are interested in architecture, there is a plethora of styles, all unique to this city, and vernacular details to learn from in dealing with this specific type of climate. And as one of the countries oldest towns – layers of history to sift through. Our last morning before heading down the road, we spent a few hours at Middleton Place. The plantation itself has America’s oldest landscape, designed by Le Notre (Versailles) beautifully sited on a lazy bend in the Ashley River. The archi-geeks in us were most interested in the Inn at Middleton Place, designed by WG Clark (above, right) – a beautiful project from the late eighties that somehow transcends its time period.
Most people on the West Coast chuckle whenever I mention the name of my favorite Southern magazine – Garden and Gun. While it does cover everything from home and garden to food to, yes, aspects of hunting in the Southeast, it is the way they go about it that is what makes it dear to me. Dubbed the “Soul of the New South”, it is so artfully illustrated and stated – full-page spreads, graphically beautiful and well told tales from that unique and thorough perspective that captures my displaced southern heart. I made a complete dork out of myself when we were in Charleston – not introducing myself or anything, I ran into their office just to tell them how much I love the magazine, and left as quickly as I went in. I am hoping it was a random happening in their busy work day that at least made them laugh. Always a good magazine to check out for more food recommends around the south!