I'm back from Savannah, as of late last night, but I still have observations to pass along.

The weather was just beautiful -- mid-70s, blue skies, a dry breeze from inland. October is still hurricane season, but except for one stormy night, the weather was ideal. Most of my trips have been in July and August, so this trip evened things out a bit.

I fell off the low-carb wagon this week. I did Atkins over the summer and lost about 25 pounds. I regained a few this week, thanks to sweet tea, fresh biscuits and gravy, and candied yams. Savannah's the home of Dixie Crystals, so you don't think they'll use Splenda in their recipes!

My last morning in town -- I've packed up, checked out of the hotel, and have some time to walk around and get some lunch before going to the job site, and then on to the airport.

It's a bit OCD of me, but when I'm in town, I like to set foot in all 24 of the historic district's squares, even the two (Liberty and Elbert) that were nearly obliterated back in the '30s. That way I cover the entire historic district -- get my exercise and see what's changed since last time. So I was finishing my rounds and crossing Jones Street. It's about 12:45 and I notice that the line outside Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room is not very long. I had not figured that eating at Mrs. Wilkes' place would be possible this trip, and had planned on getting my last fix of Southern cuisine at a buffet I hadn't tried yet, on my way to the job site.

It took about 15 minutes to get seated. Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes ran the house as a boarding house for railway workers, using the raised basement (basements in Savannah are at street level, front doors are 8 feet or so above) as a dining room. Food is still served boarding house style. I sat with tourists from New England, Florida, and Oregon. As dictated by the dynamics of family dinners, all the serving dishes tended to cluster on one side or the other.

There are usually about 20 dishes on the table. Wednesday we had fried chicken, beef stew, mashed potatoes, gravy, white rice, brown rice, pickled beets, candied yams, boiled okra and tomatoes, collard greens, green beans, lima beans, boiled cabbage, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, sliced tomatoes, butter beans, turnips, squash, biscuits and cornbread, sweet tea, and banana pudding for dessert. All for $13.

So I completed the trifecta of Savannah Southern restaurants -- The Lady and Sons (now about three weeks away from opening in their new, much bigger space a couple of blocks east), Nita's Place, and Mrs. Wilkes'.

Paula Deen, the owner of the Lady and Sons, has her own show on Food TV, and her restaurant is always packed. With the new location, it will finally be possible once again to show up for lunch without a reservation. This time, we booked ahead for Tuesday at 11, and were there when one of the cooks came out to announce the menu, ring the dinner bell, and holler "Come and get it!" My first visit was back in '97. I needed a place to eat Sunday lunch, and Mrs. Wilkes' is closed on weekends. I saw a little newspaper ad for a Southern buffet, and decided to give it a try. Paula was out meeting and serving the customers, and she autographed a copy her self-published cookbook for my wife. (My anniversary gift to her that year.)

The Lady and Sons have an incredibly rich dessert called gooey butter cake, which comes in various flavors -- I've tried pumpkin, chocolate, and lemon, and I've even made chocolate gooey butter cake for potlucks ("providential dinners" as we Calvinists call them).

Nita's Place used to be here on Abercorn; now it's on Broughton, the main shopping street. Meg Ryan ate here and loved it. Postcards from satisified diners from around the world are on the walls and under the glass on the table tops.

I had no shortage of good meals in Savannah:

* Barnes' Restaurant -- good ribs and brunswick stew

* Don's Famous Barbecue -- Lexington, North Carolina, style sliced pork in downtown Pooler, Ga.

* A Big House breakfast at the Huddle House in Garden City, on my way in to work at 1:30 a.m. (Huddle House restaurants bear a shocking resemblance to Waffle House -- not sure who copied whom, but sure looks like someone copied someone.) Listened to the only other customer in the place pour out his troubles to the waitress -- his wife doesn't understand why he needs to go down to Huddle House in the middle of the night for coffee, a cigarette and time to clear his head.

* A big omelet at Clary's Cafe

* And bubble tea (boba nai cha) at Boba!, the Internet cafe in City Market. I won't try to explain it -- read about it here.

I'm grateful I didn't gain any more back than I did.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 24, 2003 2:09 AM.

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