Supper in Savannah

I fell in love last week. With Savannah.

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Lafayette Square, Savannah

Just the name of Georgia’s oldest city has always conjured up so much mystery and intrigue for me. Is she a girl with golden curls who ran away from home? Or the last place a unicorn was ever seen? Actually, the word savanna refers to a grassy wooded area where the tree canopy doesn’t close out the light – which is most peculiar because my favorite feature of the “southern host city” are the abundant live oak and magnolia trees whose limbs are draped in silvery moss that hang like Christmas tinsel forming an almost endless umbrella along the grid of smart avenues, interrupted by 22 green squares. Some of the locals refer to her affectionately as Slow-vannah on account of the unhurried pace of life which unavoidably permeates the culinary scene as well. Many of the must-try spots like Mrs. Wilkes, Atlantic or Cotton and Rye refuse to offer reservations, and instead feature long lines of hungry (yet patient) diners who don’t seem to mind wasting an hour or more along the leafy sidewalks as they wait and wait and wait. My inner New Yorker (just the one) prefers to rely on a table waiting for me rather than the other way around.

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Elizabeth’s on 37th

One of the stalwart establishments, Elizabeth’s on 37th occupies a magnificently illuminated colonial house built in 1900. This proud recipient of a James Beard Foundation award has been serving low-country classics for 37 years. The dozen menu items range from soup to steak (with nowhere to hide if you happen to be a local shrimp or a half-moon clam).

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Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp, Elizabeth’s on 37th

I got stuck into a Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp with bits of crab, green tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms resting on a puddle of green goddess dressing. Everything was there: sweet, sour, salty, crunchy and sensational.

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Fresh Scallops, Elizabeth’s on 37th

The Fresh Scallops were seared to perfection and then layered over a soft bed of split peas and tart chives with the odd nugget of bacon for a whiff of southern smoke. But the heat from the Spicy Savannah Red Rice sure done popped my hood ‘some.

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Spicy Savannah Red Rice, Elizabeth’s on 37th

This utterly delicious southern-styled paella of Carolina rice, grouper, shrimp, clams, sausage and okra was as fresh and bright as a sweet tomato bisque, before diving into the depths of a dark and dirty gumbo.

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Shrimp and Grits, The Public Kitchen and Bar

I know one shouldn’t compare the two, but Charleston and Savannah are often thought of as sister cities that some say despite their geographic proximity haven’t spoken to one another for years! And so, it’s not surprising to discover that a great many dishes are shared and borrowed across the state line. I know I might have mentioned in a previous blog that Sean Brock’s Shrimp and Grits at Husk had sent me home starry eyed, but that was before I was ruined by Brian Gonet’s version at The Public Kitchen and Bar. (Please indulge me as I borrow a little inspiration from “Gone with the Wind” here), I do declare, that as God is my witness, I shall never order Shrimp and Grits anywhere else again! Chef Gonet spikes his grits with cheddar and bacon and then he sears chorizo sausage to extract all those piquant and peppery flavors before adding tomatoes with local shrimp before finishing everything off with sweet sherry and heavy cream. Suuuhth’n heaven!

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

You’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t mentioned the plethora of pecan-inspired pies, cookies, cheesecakes, bruléés and puddin’s that are as plentiful as horse-drawn carriages. That’s because I was saving room (daily) for a southern mainstay known as Leopold’s Ice-cream, where you’ll find yet another ubiquitous line of congenial Southerners snaking out into the street. My fave’s? Caramel swirl, Tutti Frutti and, of course, Butter Pecan! The 23 flavors were perfected by the original 3 Leopold brothers, and have remained unchanged since 1919.

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

But don’t presume for a slow, southern second that this old city can’t do anything new. The abundance of artisanal bakeries like James Beard nominee Back in the Day or hip trinket-eries that serve coffee, cookies, candles and soap like The Paris Market, Australian salad-aries like Collins Quarter or even a counter-style South African sausage-erie called Zunzi know how to harness flawless quality and authenticity with a unique and distinctive charm.

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The Grey

But the proverbial cake has well and truly been taken by former Prune (NYC) toque Mashama Bailey. At The Grey, a meticulously renovated art deco Greyhound bus terminal from 1934, Bailey will forever be remembered as the chef who vaulted Savannah into a new era of destination dining.

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The Grey

Every inlaid wood and brushed chrome detail, every bronze and white glass lamp sconce, every section of custom curved windows and a religiously seasonal menu that changes daily, makes this the scarcest table in town. Showered with acclaim as Eater’s “Restaurant of the Year”, one of Time Magazine’s “100’s greatest Places” and a James Beard nominee, Bailey and her energetic team work hard to deliver big city dishes that would easily become house favorites – in any big city. The menu is categorized by the location of the ingredients (pantry, water, dirt and pasture) and the constant blur of the gingham-shirted wait staff creates a lively, expeditious and electric atmosphere in direct contrast to Slow-vannah.

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Steak Tartare, The Grey

The earth-shatteringly wonderful Steak Tartare is butchered from an entire hind quarter, aged for about a month before being chopped and dressed with lemon, a spectacular home-made Worcestershire sauce and pickled quail egg. The house-made buttery Buccatini with Clams was inspired in its simplicity, as was the addition of salty Halumi cheese into an amazingly caramelized tumble of roasted delicate Squash and Spring onions.

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Chicken Country Captain, The Grey

And the only menu item that will hopefully remain a fixture into the next decade is the triumphant Chicken Country Captain, drenched in a sublime and memory-making curry sauce with slivers of crunchy almonds and pocks of sweet currants. I must have blacked out, as I don’t remember lifting the plate to my lips and licking it clean.

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The Diner at The Grey

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that within the next five to seven years Savannah will compete handsomely in the nation’s food scene, luring the next generation of celebra-chefs to crack open a brand-new cuisine called sophista-soul. But before anyone gets too far down the line, no more walk-in’s without reservations y’all!

http://mrswilkes.com/

https://atlanticsavannah.com/

http://www.cottonandrye.com/#intro

http://www.elizabethon37th.net/

http://www.thepublickitchen.com/

https://backinthedaybakery.com/index.html

https://theparismarket.com/

https://www.zunzis.com/

http://thegreyrestaurant.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly sensational summer secrets

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-3-46-48-pmBest-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver penned the phrase: “Cooking is 80% confidence”, but for whatever reason she never got around to divulging the rest of the equation. So if it were me I would add: “… and 20% reading”, i.e. if you can read – you can cook! But there is a distinction between faithfully following a recipe, and creating something entirely new, inspired by your memory, guided by your tongue or compromised by the limitations of your grocery cabinet.

There are two reasons why I seldom (never) post recipes on my blog:

  1. I don’t want rogersdigest to turn into a re-publishing link for recipes that have debuted elsewhere.
  2. If I happen to invent a dish, a large part of me wants it to remain a secret.

What to do?

Well, maybe it’s the weather or maybe I’m just in a curiously generous mood, but I thought I’d share a couple of surprisingly successful – yet simple dishes that have come dangerously close to “hit” status this past summer.

The first comes in the form of a challenge I frequently set for myself – whereby I try (with mixed success) to recreate a dish I’ve recently enjoyed in a restaurant. Using the smattering of ingredients they list on the menu (rarely the whole story) and my ability to decipher the proportions (with varying accuracy) in the hopes that eventually I might get lucky. This creamy, yet ridiculously light and refreshing rendition of a Cucumber Gazpacho is within sipping distance of its original from the Little Beet Table on Park Avenue.

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Cucumber Gazpacho

Cucumber Gazpacho – Serves 4

  • 4 large cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup green, seedless grapes
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk (if you can’t find unsweetened, then leave out the grapes)
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • 3 – 4 Tblspn white wine vinegar (to taste)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • ½ cup roasted Marcona almonds for serving (or for snacking while you cook)
  • 1 Tblspn Chili oil (optional but highly recommended) *
  1. Peel, seed and roughly chop the cucumbers. Discard the peel and seeds. (Did I just write that?) Add the first 6 items to a blender (i.e. stop before you get to the salt) and puree thoroughly until smooth. Season with salt and feel free to juggle extra vinegar, salt or grapes to balance the sweet:salt:sour ratio. Don’t stop until you’re happy.
  2. Use a spatula to press through a fine sieve into a large bowl to remove all the solids.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours until well chilled. (If you don’t have 3 hours don’t add ice cubes. Leave the mixing bowl in the freezer while you’re making the soup.)
  4. Divide into serving dishes and toss in a few Marcona almonds. Dribble a few sparse freckles of chili oil on top and serve immediately.

* You can make your own chili oil by adding 1 Tblspn crushed red pepper flakes to ½ cup olive oil. Simmer over low heat in a small saucepan until fully absorbed for about 20 minutes. Strain and discard the chili flakes and let the oil cool to room temperature before using.
This shamelessly simple, down & dirty but delicious Crunchy Caramel Peaches was the result of a desperate think-outside-the-cereal-box moment when a crowd showed up with an unmistakably “what’s for dessert?” look on their faces. In less than 6 minutes, I whipped up whatever I could find before it became the most frequently requested dessert of the season.

 

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Crunchy Caramel Peaches

Crunchy Caramel Peaches – Serves 4

  • 2 ripe peaches
  • 2 Tblspn butter
  • 1 Tblspn Dulce de Leche *
  • Vanilla Ice-cream
  • Granola (The nuttiest one you can find. i.e. full of nuts – not crazy! See recipe below)
  1. Halve, pit and dice the peaches. Discard the pits. (There I go again.)
  2. In a large skillet at medium-high heat, melt the butter and sauté the peaches until they soften slightly and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (You’ll know you’ve gone too far when they start to disintegrate and you have the makings of peach marmalade in your pan. If so, discard and start over at #1.)
  3. Add the Dulce de Leche and continue to cook, stirring constantly until well blended for about a minute.
  4. Dollop a healthy spoonful of the peach mixture over one or more scoops of Vanilla ice-cream, and top with a handful of granola. Serve right away.

* Don’t use Caramel sauce or the sugar will crystalize. If you can’t find Dulce de Leche, you can either curl up in a corner and weep for 20 minutes, or you can make your own by boiling an sealed tin of condensed milk submerged in a deep pot of water for 2 hours. (Oh, and you might want to remember to top up with extra water as it evaporates from time to time or the tin will explode. Trust me. I’ve done it before. Took nearly 2 months to clean up the mess. And let the tin cool completely before you open it, or you will have 2nd degree burns and stalactites of molten caramel dripping from kitchen ceiling. #notfun, #betterthingstodowithmytime)

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Have you ever noticed on the label how much sugar they add to store bought granola? It’s insane! And not surprisingly, the better they taste -the more sugar/syrup/honey they add. And those that are supposedly “good for you” just have insipidly dry, boringly beige oats. For me, granola has to be choc full of rich, dark, brown, sticky clusters of nuts, so that when you make your way through the crunchy deliciousness, you get a mélange of flavors from hazels and pecans and almonds and pistachios with every bite.

This recipe comes with a strict warning: Keep out of reach of habitual in-between-meal snackers, or you’ll have nothing left for breakfast!

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Sugar-free nutty Granola

Sugar-free nutty Granola – About 12 servings, depending on whether you lock it away or not

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw coconut flakes (unsweetened)
  • 1 cup pistachio nuts that are roasted, unsalted, shelled and talented
  • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts chopped in half – big pieces, not crumbs
  • ½ cup raw pecans
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tspn salt
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup Blackstrap molasses (see, no sugar/syrup/honey here)
  • ½ cup dried tart cherries
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Combine the first 9 ingredients (all the dry stuff except the cherries) in a large bowl.
  3. Warm the oil and molasses in a small saucepan and stir constantly until combined.
  4. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir well. (Except the cherries. That comes later.)
  5. Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a latex baking mat.
  6. Place in the center rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Stir the mixture around and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool completely. This is where everything becomes nice and sticky so don’t rush this part. Go do something else. Read a book. Binge watch House of Cards. Practice the piano. Vacuum the drapes.
  9. Evenly distribute the tart cherries into the granola as you pour it into an airtight container. #yum.

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https://www.thelittlebeettable.com/