Savannah and Charleston: A Culinary Odyssey

Butchie and I just took a nice LONG drive down to Low Country, or more specifically, Savannah and Charleston. I should have walked back. It would have been a great way to work off the ten pounds I gained from too much good food! NB: This is such a long long post! I can’t help it! There’s so much to say! I’ve posted recipes from the various places we ate below.
Clockwise: Virginia's on King in Charleston, The Olde Pink House in Savannah, Forsythe Park in Savannah, A Savannah Theater, and Paula Deen's Lady and Sons Restaurant in Savannah

I have to start with the disclaimer that I am in now way paid to plug any restaurant or boutique in this post. I just want to share all about the great foods I ate. With that aside, it is somewhat surprising to say that the best moment of a culinary odyssey is the one moment of the trip that had nothing to do with food. But this story is too good to skip!

We woke up earlier than I wake up--ever, for any reason at all--and went to do some nature photography at a particularly pretty wetlands area outside Savannah our first day. Butchie had walked about 200 yards away from me, crouched down to take some pictures, when a woman in a mini-van taxi pulls up and says to me “Naw, I don’ know if you care abou’ your boy down thar getting’ eatin’ by gaders or nuthin’ but y’all shouldn’t be out here.” Emphasis on “your boy.” Yes, that’s right. Butchie is apparently a pre-adolescent male, and I am his negligent and slutty teenage mom, out early to feed him to the alligators. It was an amazing conversation. I was roaring with laughter and nearly crying when I told the woman that “my boy” was actually a 25 year old girl. [I wish I had commentary on this, but I don’t. I’m short, my hair was up, etc etc.--B]

I love Savannah and Charleston both. In Savannah we went antique shopping and took ghost tours, and in Charleston got to stroll through farmers markets and really fell in love with the locals. Rather, one seemed to have a little too much love for us. But we’re fairly certain he flirts with every woman who enters the shop. And that the other lady within earshot was his wife.

Now let’s talk about what really matters: THE FOOD! Talk about a culinary heaven. In addition to ten pounds, I gained a great appreciation for properly prepared biscuits. I have to say though, none I tried held a candle to a biscuit I had at Clinton Street Bakery in NYC. I was shocked to find that none of my southern eateries beat it out. You’d think if you could find the world’s best biscuit, it would be in one of these towns.

We started out our first day in Savannah by going and getting in line for Paula Deen’s to make our reservation for lunch later, and then taking a walk around the waterfront and stopping into River Street Sweets. River Street Sweets is the quintessential sweet shop acclaimed as "Savannah's Best Candy Store" Savannah Magazine, and as the snack of the day on the Rachel Ray Show. Walls of taffy bins and a taffy-pulling machine right up front. Cases full of pralines, peanut brittle, chocolate-covered marshmallow, and of course, Chocolate Bear Claws, made of fresh chopped pecan pieces topped with homemade caramel and hand drizzled chocolate.
Clockwise: Toffee, Pralines, Fudge, The Bear Claws Featured on Rachel Ray, Choclate Pralines, Unfinished Bear Claws, Assorted Chocolate Covered Treats
They also boast one of the most helpful and welcoming staffs I’ve encountered. Would you believe I’d never tried peanut brittle? When the sweet-hearted cashier ringing up my marshmallows heard that, she quickly ran over to the shelves, opened a bag and gave it to me to try out. It was lovely. I probably ate half the bag that day! And the good man making the taffy answered all our questions and gave us multiple pieces to taste test throughout the process.
The toffee making process at River Street Sweets

After we tore ourselves away from the sweets and walked down the rest of River Street, we headed back to Paula Deen’s for our lunch reservation. I will say the biscuit was underwhelming. But her hoecake, similar to a cornmeal pancake, was excellent, as were our fried green tomatoes with the sweet Vidalia onion and roasted red pepper sauces.  Sadly, we have to admit that although Mrs. Deen served up some good food, it wasn’t our favorite meal of the trip. I wouldn’t necessarily say to skip the restaurant, but if you have to choose between Mrs. Deen and some of the other iconic Savannah restaurants, be open to experimentation.
Paula Deen's Clockwise: Fried Green Tomatoes, Confederate Soup of the Day, the Restaurant Facade, Chicken with collard and macaroni and cheese, Hoe cake and Biscuit, Crabcake,  Fried Chicken and Green Beans, and Chocolate Cake

That afternoon, we had ice cream for dinner. We’re adults and we were on vacation, so I think it was a good life choice. [Concur. Mostly because I could not physically have eaten another meal that day. --B] Also in Savannah, Leopold’s Ice Cream makes a delicious array of handmade flavors. Butchie had a hot fudge sundae, with the coconut and cherry blossom flavors, and I decided to try out the specialty huckleberry sauce on lemon custard and rose. The huckleberry paired especially well with the lemon. The ice creams are all excellently made with the perfect texture. [The coconut had actual shreds in it, which I appreciated. --B] One nice gentleman even came up to me after to tell me he liked my style, pairing the lemon with the huckleberry. In the south, people are apparently so gracious that they will even compliment your ice cream choice!
Cherry Blossom and Coconut Hot Fudge Sunday, Rose and Lemon Ice Cream with Huckleberry Sauce,  Assorted Southern Cakes such as Red Velvet

By this point we were practically in a food coma. We took a trolley ghost tour for laughs, sadly sans actual ghosts. We did hear that the restaurant we were going to eat at the next night has a little girl ghost who liked to play in the women’s restroom, but she didn’t show up. So sad. I’ve always wanted a little girl ghost friend of my own.

The next morning we let ourselves sleep in. No reason to go gator-hunting that early in the morning again. I can’t be a negligent mother two days in a row! We woke up late and went down to River Street again to eat at Huey’s.
Eggs Sardou, Creole Omelet, Beignets 

Huey’s is a charming place with plenty of French doors that lend to an open air feeling. If you don’t let the incredibly rude hostess scare you away (we’re hoping she was having a bad day), the food is well worth it. We recommend starting out with their traditional beignets. These are not like the ones JP had us make: they’re giant, square-cut and layered in powdered sugar, with a praline sauce on the side. Eat them while they’re warm. If they cool down they just aren’t the same.

I also had the eggs Sardou: similar to eggs benedict only with spinach and artichoke heart instead of ham. It was an excellent dish. However, their version of “cheese grits” left something to be desired. They cheese is not incorporated and the grits had a less than desirable texture. Butchie’s parmesan grits were quite nice, not as good as the ones we were to have for dinner later that night at the Olde Pink House, but lovely. [I had a creole omelet with lots of shrimp, which was nice but could have been a little spicier. --B]
Butchie and I's Box of Chocoalte from Wright Square Cafe: Rosemary, Exploding, Hazelnut, Bacon (with the curls) and Savannah Honey, other assorted chocoaltes, the Exploding Truffle

After brunch, we took a long leisurely walk down to Forsyth Park and took a little break there. Heading back, we stopped in at the Wright Square Café and Chocolatier. Here we found a real treat. Chocolatier Adam Terroni had a lovely selection of handmade chocolates made with fresh herbs to boot. We tried the rosemary sea salt, Savannah Honey beehive truffle, hazelnut crème, exploding truffle (with pop rocks!), and fell madly in love with the Bacon Truffle. The excellent filling with tiny bits of bacon was sublime, and it was beautifully decorated in chocolate curls. We highly highly recommend it, even if Adam did tell us that he prefers plain chocolate.
The Fried Green Tomatoe BLT as feature on Best Thing I Ever Ate, Flounder with Apricot Sauce, Pecan-crusted Chicken with Collards and a Sweet Potato in Vanilla Praline Butter, The Olde Pink House Facade

Last and definitely not least, our favorite of the Savannah leg was most definitely The Olde Pink House. Charming décor, friendly wait staff and easily the best meal we had during the trip. Christopher Hewitt, a former Iron Chef Competitor and co-owner of Southern Graces and full-time chef at The Olde Pink House restaurant, worked with celebrity chef Bobby Flay for many years, and recently Guy Fieri visited the restaurant to tape a feature on his Fried Green Tomatoes “BLT” for Best Thing I Ever Ate. If that doesn’t say enough for the restaurant, allow me to say more.

We tried their Southern Sushi, made with grits, smoked shrimp, and tempura-fried coconut, served with a soy sauce reduction that was incredibly inventive. Of course we also had to try to BLT and it lived up to its rave reviews. The only even remote thing that was not expected was the biscuit. It was more of an English tea biscuit than it was southern style. A very lovely biscuit, but not what I had expected. The cornbread was delightful with a silky smooth texture that is truly an accomplishment in cornbread.

As an entrée, I had the signature dish of flounder with an apricot-shallot sauce. It was remarkable: the fish arrives practically whole, scored into diamonds with the sauce poured into the channels. The sauce is excellent and as the waiter says is the only recipe they won’t give away, so obviously I hope to find a way to steal it. The grits were easily the best of the trip, and the collard greens were, well, the least hated collards I’ve ever had. There’s a compliment somewhere in that. They were not at all bitter and very well prepared, even for a dead-set greens hater. [I tried, guys. I think she will never love collard greens. Which makes me sad. These were extremely delicious. --B]

It took a little effort to pull ourselves away from all the lovely dining we did in Savannah. The short of it is, eat at the Olde Pink House and definitely go to Wright Square Café and Chocolatier for the Bacon Truffle.
Virginia's on King Facade, Shrimp on Grits, Macaroni and Cheese, Fried Oyster Salad, She-Crab Soup

The next day we went over to Charleston for a spell. We had brunch at a restaurant recommended to me by Helen of Tartelette: Virginia’s on King, and it was a perfect suggestion. Of course we had to try the she-crab soup, which Butchie went into raptures over, and I just couldn’t help myself when I saw shrimp and grits on the menu. [This is the wonderful thing about this part of the country. There are grits everywhere. --B] You’d think I’d get tired of these flavors, but no. Local shrimp are sautéed with smoked sausage and bell peppers, then  served over stone ground grits with a tasso ham gravy. It was an excellent blend of flavors. It certainly woke me up in the morning!

From there the day turned into a sweets excursion, beginning with a stop into the Macaroon Boutique, which is staffed by generally friendly folks, including an overly flirtatious French man. It’s always special to be offered an affair along with your macarons. I told Stephen about it later and he seemed somewhat concerned that I might have actually found my dream man. He has a very good point. [Macarons and croissants, every day. Stephen SHOULD feel threatened. --B]
Christophe Artisan Chocolates, Macarons and Chocolate Croissants from the Macaroon Boutique and a Meringa Ice Cream Cone from Paulo's Gelato Italiano

We also stopped for a few chocolates from Christophe Artisan Chocolatier and a scoop at Paulo’s Gelato Italiano. Such a charming shop! My meringa ice cream cone was perfect. [My local peach gelato was also dreamy, tasting more like fruit than ice cream. --B] Just before we jumped in the car for our drive back to DC, we took a stroll through the various markets set up for the piccolo spilleto festival. Butchie and I were completely entranced by the various herbs: chocolate mint, lemon verbena, etc. Sadly we missed the culinary lavender buds by one week! I was sad: we have been scheming to make a lavender extract for a while now. But if that’s the only thing we didn’t achieve, I think we did pretty well.

All in all, a gorgeous adventure. There were other things, of course, among them Tybee Island and some good shopping, but we know you come here for the food. So here’s some to wrap up:

River Street Sweets Peanut Brittle

1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
2 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cup corn syrup
1 pound unsalted roasted or raw peanuts
1 cup water

Coat two large baking trays with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the salt and baking soda in a small cup and blend well. Set aside.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and cook the mixture to 270. Sir in the peanuts and continue to cook, stirring continuously until the mixture reaches 298. Keep stirring so that the mixture does not burn.

Remove from heat and quickly sprinkle the baking soda and salt mixture evenly over top of hot brittle. Stir until dissolved and well blended. Immediately pour the brittle onto a prepared baking sheet. The mixture will continue to expand after pouring so do not overfill the caking sheets. Even out with a spatula.

Allow the brittle to cool for one minute, and then flip it over. It will be very warm. After about 2 more minutes, cut the brittle in half and stretch the brittle while it is still pliable.

Allow to cool and then break into random sized pieces.

Paula Deen’s Hoe Cakes
As found at the Food Network

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising cornmeal, or from a mix (recommended: Aunt Jemima's)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying

Mix well all ingredients, except for the frying oil. Heat the frying oil or butter in a medium or large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter, by full tablespoons, into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake. Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Paula Deen’s Fried Green Tomatoes and Vidalia Onion Relish
As found at Paula Deen

3 or 4 large firm green tomatoes
2 cups vegetable or peanut oil, for deep-frying
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups self-rising flour
freshly ground black pepper

Vidalia Onion Relish:
2 white onions, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Slice the tomatoes 1/4-inch thick. Lay them out in a shallow baking pan and sprinkle with salt. Place the tomato slices in a colander and allow time for salt to pull the water out of the tomatoes, approximately 30 minutes.

In a skillet, heat the oil for deep-frying over medium-high heat.
Dip the tomatoes into buttermilk, and then dredge them into flour with a dash of pepper. Deep-fry until golden brown. Keep warm.

For the Vidalia Onion Relish:
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for a few hours.

Leopold’s Huckleberry Sauce

2 cups fresh or frozen wild huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 ½ teaspoons cold water

Combine the huckleberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Cook stirring over low heat until the sugar dissolved and the huckleberries have released their juices. Bring the mixture to a full boil for sever minutes, then all the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes.

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and pour into the simmer mixture. Stir slowly for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from heat and allow to cool before serving over ice cream.

The Olde Pink House Fried Green Tomatoes
8 oz Vegetable Oil
4 oz Corn Meal
8 oz AP Flour
2 oz Milk
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cut 4 slices out of each tomato. Add the corn meal and flour together and mix completely. Place tomatoes in milk, and then add the corn meal and flour mixture. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add tomatoes. Fry for 3 minutes.

Sautéed Local Shrimp with Country Ham & Grits Cake

12 oz The Olde Pink House Fresh Native Stone Ground Organic Sweet Yellow Corn Grits
6 oz shredded Cheddar Cheese

To prepare grits, follow packaging instructions. Pour grits onto a cookie sheet pan. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Cut into 1x1 squares. Flour and deep fry grits for 2-3 minutes in vegetable oil.

4 oz Heavy Cream
2 oz Cured Ham
8 jumbo Shrimp
1 oz Clarified Butter
2 Cheese Grits Cakes

Add 1 ounce of clarified butter to sauté pan. Add 2 ounces of Cured Ham and sauté. Add shrimp and sauté. Reduce sauce until thick and creamy. Pour sauce over the grits cake.

Virginia’s on King Shrimp and Okra Perlow
1 tbsp Olive Oil
12 oz Tomato, diced
1 Yellow Onion, diced
8 oz Tomato Juice
1 pint of Heavy Cream
12 tail on 16-20 Shrimp
6 oz of your favorite BBQ Sauce
1 tbsp dried Basil
4 cup cooked Rice
1 tsp Garlic, diced
1 tsp Shallot, diced
1/4 cup Okra, sliced
1 tbsp Butter
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Tomato Sauce:
Sweat the onion in 1/2 tbsp of oil until translucent. Add the diced tomato and the juice and reduce by half. Add the cream and dried basil and reduce this by half. Season and puree.

Season with salt and pepper and grill, continue brushing with the bbq sauce until shrimp is finished.

Okra Perlow
Sweat the garlic, shallot, and okra with remaining olive oil. Add the rice to the pan and add your tomato sauce, a little at a time, until desired flavor. Stir in butter and taste for seasoning.

To plate:
Place the rice mixture in the center of four small bowls and place three bbq shrimp around each. Garnish with fresh, chopped parsley and serve.

Enjoy! And please visit the Olde Pink House and Virginia's on King! We won't stop raving about the food!