We just got back from Savannah, Georgia, where we were shooting an episode of Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag, immersing ourselves in true southern cuisine and culture while testing the cookbook Bon Appetit, Y'all. I swear a little bit of southern slang has rubbed off on me, though when I tried my shot at a Southern accent, the crew gave a slightly embarrassed chuckle. Apparently I have some work to do.
Like thousands of others, my interest in Savannah flourished after reading the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt, a non-fiction novel about a murder and subsequent trial that made headlines in the 1980s. But more than that, it’s an ode Savannah’s charm, characters and history, with a bit of Gothic voodoo thrown in. After I saw those oak-lined streets in Clint Eastwood’s film version, it’s been on my list of must-visit places.
Before we settled into Savannah, we made a pit-stop at the Pearson family farm, where the family has been cultivating peaches and pecans for generations. It is peach season now, pecans come in the fall. It was over 100 degrees and about 80 percent humidity in the orchard! I got my first taste of both the sweetest peaches I’ve ever bit into and that true southern hospitality. Southerners really do have better manners!
Georgia is the third largest peach producer in the US, after California and South Carolina. But their fruit is special enough to warrant some prime real estate – on the state’s licence plates!
TIP: Here’s the secret to buying the best peaches, don’t focus on choosing the reddest ones. The peaches should have a yellow background, not green, as that’s the true indication of ripeness.
A three hour drive later, we were in Savannah, checking in at the Mansion on Forsyth Park, a hotel in a quiet location, across from the city’s biggest park. Though the building may be old, the interior is definitely more modern. Think eclectic boudoir meets Picasso. It was a cool, comfortable reprieve from the wilting heat.
We shot much of the episode at the restaurant and cooking school at 700 Drayton next door. (Be sure to tune in in October when it airs.) A special thank you to Chef Darin for all this help, and his insanely mouth watering pecan coffee cake – which I was nibbling on for three days in my room.
Yes, this trip was pretty much all about food. Shooting the show meant I couldn’t make it to Mrs. Wilkes’ – only open for lunch – one of my big regrets. Locals assured me this is the place to sample true southern comfort food like collard greens, grits, corn and fried chicken. Apparently you sit down and you eat what they bring out. (No menu, no decisions.)
After shooting one night, Anna and I and our director Jordan made the trek to Tybee Island to have dinner at the legendary Crab Shack. Heaping plates of shellfish and crab are their specialty, but it’s really the setting and atmosphere that sets this place apart.
To round out the evening, we had a beer at Pinkie Master’s Lounge, voted one of the best dive bars in America.
Even More Food
The next evening I went full tourist and followed the throngs for a meal at The Lady and Sons, Paula Deen’s eatery. It can be difficult to get a table so be sure to make reservations. I bypassed the buffet and ordered off the menu: grouper with peach barbecue sauce and cheese grit cakes. So good that I went into the attached Paula Deen shop to see if I could buy some sauce to take home. No luck, but the store is full of other products, foodstuffs and chachkas, not to mention tourists. This southern belle is definitely racking it in.
We also enjoyed a delicious modern spin on southern cuisine at Local 11-Ten, off the beaten track and definitely full of more locals than the touristy eateries. It’s a sophisticated restaurant that focuses on local ingredients. I had a perfectly dressed salad with pecans and chicken with truffle Mac and cheese, yum!
Despite all the shooting and eating, I did manage to find a few hours to explore the city. I opted out of a tour (of which there are many; tourism is booming here) and chose to explore on foot – Savannah is very walkable. A stroll down Bull Street takes you through the heart of the tree-lined historic district, dotted with shady picturesque squares straight out of your imaginings.
The Spanish moss dripping off the huge oak trees is hauntingly beautiful. This is also where you’ll find many of the historic buildings and elegant mansions, including the Mercer House, the literal scene of the crime in “the book”.
I also meandered along River Street, which is overly touristy, but still worth a visit to see the architecture and former cotton industry hub.
I’ll Be Back
It probably takes a few days to fully explore Savannah and its charms. I’m definitely going back and adding Charleston to the itinerary next time. I’ve got Georgia on my mind.