Thanks to Paula Deen and the Food Network, when I thought of Savannah cuisine (and Southern food in gneral), I pictured all the deep fried, calorie laden classics – buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, fried okra – all prepared with no less than two sticks of butter. And while I certainly have nothing against this type of food, it would be unfair to the South to portray its cuisine in such a simple manner. There is so much more to cooking and the food scene in Savannah and that’s exactly what the Savannah Taste Experience aims to show with its food tour around the historic city.
The Savannah Taste Experience’s stated mission is to sample delicious foods from six unique foodie spots surrounding the initial squares built in Savannah while learning about the food, the restaurants, the history, and the culture of Savannah. In other words, showing off all the unique culinary traditions and exciting new directions that the food scene in Savannah is heading – and indulging all along the way.
We started our afternoon off at Bernie’s, a traditional Savannah seafood joint shucking oysters for the masses since 1995. In addition to raw oysters, we were given fried shrimp stuffed with gooey, melted cheese and traditional hush puppies. While we proceeded to stuff our faces, our tour guide Stu gave us not only a detailed description of what we were eating, but also the history behind the dish and its significance to the Savannah area. I have to confess, most of my food was gone before Stu had a chance to really get into the details, but it was interesting to hear nonetheless.
From Bernie’s, we strolled down River Street – Savannah’s main hub for visitor activity – to the next stop on the tour, Boars Head, a Savannah classic that has been serving up low country cuisine for years. She crab soup is a regional specialty that I had only ever seen on a menu once before when I was working in Virginia Beach, though I’d never had the opportunity to try it.
She crab soup takes its name from the practice of serving the less desirable female crabs (due to the presence of roe in their meat) in soup form to disguise the gender of the crab. It turns out that the soup was an even more delicious way to eat the crab, and she crab soup has been a menu fixture on the south Atlantic coast since. Typically, the soup is served with a shot of sherry, but at Boars Head, the soup is blended with the sherry giving it a pinkish hue when served.
After two savory dishes, it was time for something sweet, and thankfully Mabel Francis Potter’s Cupcake Emporium was next up on our list. The shop serves traditional gourmet cupcakes with a Southern twist. It wasn’t my first time at a unique southern cupcake shop, but I’ll never turn down moist cake with heaps of colorful frosting clinging to the top.
Supposedly there is a proper way to eat a cupcake, but I still haven’t figured it out yet as I awkwardly shoved the frosting into my nose while taking the first bite of the traditional birthday cake cupcake we were served.
As we continued on our tour, we walked through several of the shady, green squares that make up the Savannah historic district, including the four original squares laid out when the city was founded in 1733 by James Ogelthorpe. And while the tour’s primary focus was food, we were also treated to a history of Savannah itself and some of the colorful characters that called it home.
The walk continued onto Savannah’s main commercial thoroughfare playing host to famous international brands and local boutiques alike. The Savannah Bee Company and The Salt Table are two such boutiques focused on offering extremely artisianal, hand crafted products and treating them with the attention and care typically reserved for wine. At The Savannah Bee Company, the small black and yellow insect is revered for its sweet creation. Honey created with acacia, sourwood, and orange blossom blooms provide unique flavor profiles not found in your typical plastic teddy bear full of the sticky sweet stuff.
At The Salt Table, they’ve given similar reverence to a crusty white mineral. Salt is the focus at this unique store, offering everything from seasoning blends to salt slab cutting boards. Their salts are also infused with flavors such as bacon and ghost pepper, with the latter providing a potent kick with just a single grain placed on the tip of the tongue. Thankfully, The Salt Table also offers four varieties of iced tea to cool the burn down, and we were turned loose with a cup full of ice to create our own custom blends.
Historically, the Scottish have played an important part in the development of the city of Savannah, and at one point, Scotish restaurants were prevalent in the Savannah dining scene. Today, Molly McPhersons is the only Scottish restaurant remaining in the Savannah Historic District, and we finished our tour up at the last stand of the Scots.
A Scotch Egg is a traditional hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs that is then deep fried. I’m a big fan of all of those components separately, but I was a little apprehensive of biting into my first Scotch Egg – I was unsure how these ingredients would combine.It turns out that Scotch Eggs are simply amazing, and thanks to a vegetarian on our tour, I was able to polish off the entire plate of eggs pictured below.
Sticky Toffee Pudding was served alongside the Scotch egg, providing something sweet to go with the savory egg. The dessert is a thicker, traditional pudding from the British Isles rather than the JELL-O style pudding found across America and was certainly delicious.
After three hours tasting around Savannah, I gained a new appreciation for the diversity of the culinary creations in Savannah. It’s so much more than the southern classics – it’s fresh seafood, artisianal condiments, and modern twists on traditional european immigrant fare.