Something extra special is simmering in Savannah these days. Sure, Georgia’s oldest city has been a tourist draw for generations. The irresistible charm of its cobblestone streets and fountain-strewn squares — Spanish moss suspended above it all — was enough to earn it distinction as a National Historic Landmark over 55 years ago. That story’s been the same for centuries, in fact. But now, the urban enclave is writing an exciting new chapter into the future, establishing itself as a full-fledged foodie mecca. Come have a taste of what’s cooking over in the “Hostess City of the South.”
Any journey here must include a stop at The Grey, acclaimed playground for executive chef Mashama Bailey. Built into an Art Deco-era bus terminal, the hip eatery helped define what contemporary Savannah cuisine would become: food with a refreshingly broad worldview. Bailey started infusing Southern soul with African influences back in 2014 — just one year after the city hosted its first-ever Food & Wine Festival. It wasn’t until 2019, however, that she solidified her status on the national level, taking home a coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast.
Around the same time, Savannah started attracting the interest of chefs from beyond its city limits. Sean Brock opened an outpost of Husk here in 2018. The Fat Radish, which opened beneath The Windrose Apartment Hotel, is an export from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The vegetable-forward menu is theoretically inspired by British sensibilities. But unlike its New York counterpart, which closed in 2020, this one takes its cues from Southern traditions. To wit, they offer a killer boiled peanut hummus and a memorable take on pimento cheese. That’s just for starters.
And it’s not only the eateries that are emigrating here from much more sprawling cityscapes — it’s also the people. With a population of roughly 145,000, you could sense a swell of newcomers flocking downtown during the lockdowns of 2020. They were coming from places like Atlanta, D.C., and, yes, New York. And many of them came craving fine food and beverage.
A new slate of openings has cropped up to serve the increased demand. Common Thread is notable among them. It occupies a fully renovated 5,000-square-foot mansion in Thomas Square. Here, executive chef Brandon Carter endeavors to refocus Southern staples through a global lens. That means duck confit served with sweet potato dumplings, and collards studded with black cardamom and pistachio dukkah.
On the corner of Liberty and Bull in the heart of historic downtown, Franklin’s is the latest in a series of brunch hot spots. Although it holds the trappings of a Parisian grab-and-go coffee shop, it’s actually a sensational sit-down stop for breakfast sandwiches. The croque monsieur is a standout among them, prepared on thick-cut sourdough and slathered with creole mustard and béchamel. It also serves steamed eggs, prepared on an espresso machine. The location joins an enviable midday cafe scene that has been anchored for the past few years by The Collins Quarter. Now with two locations, the concept promises all-day brunch with an “Australian accent.”
Indeed, Savannah’s modern food scene is adept in all sorts of dialects. It speaks as effortlessly to vegans as it does to unabashed carnivores. The former is catered to skillfully by Fox & Fig Cafe, while the latter folks will find ample comfort at the Double Wide Diner. The riverfront newcomer slings peanut butter and jelly chicken wings and fried chicken-topped nachos alongside sake-based cocktails.
Speaking of drinks, Savannah now boasts a dependable selection of rooftop watering holes, where quality of preparation is matched only by the caliber of the view. Atop the Bohemian Hotel, you’ll find Rocks on the Roof, featuring fireside martinis and savory tapas alongside a Savannah River panorama.
The Perry Lane Hotel (part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection) offers its own open-air venue, Peregrin. Drinks at this sixth-story poolside bar are named simply by the respective fruit flavor each is intended to evoke. For those preferring to go underground, Artillery Bar offers bespoke craft cocktails — and an extensive list of American whiskies — in a speakeasy setting. Or, for something decidedly more tropical, head over to the Starland District to explore the menu at Water Witch Tiki. Less than two years in existence, the island-themed oasis is already a local fixture.
Yes, Savannah food and drink has evolved quite rapidly in a relatively short span of time. But it hasn’t come at the expense of any historic standbys. Southern classics such as The Olde Pinke House, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, and The Pirates’ House are as popular as ever. As you stroll the city streets, the centuries-old charm remains in tact. If you sense something different in the air, it’s most likely the alluring aroma of a nearby kitchen. Get it while it’s hot.