Moon over Savannah
Trip Start Jul 10, 2007
32Trip End Ongoing
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Having watched her for years and travelled and eaten our way throughout the South, including Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama and Louisiana numerous times, we were thrilled to have a Southern influenced restaurant Savannah Cafe', open within our midst. Having met John Warren, one of the owners, a couple of years ago, and actually having looked at the space, that formerly housed, the Hampton Jazz Club, and back in the 20's Pinellas Auto Sales, we were eager to see what he and partner Edyth James had accomplished with this grand space, especially since he had recently dined at our restaurant with his family.
Looking at the empty restaurant 2 years ago, we could envision transforming it into our restaurant Elements, but the timing just was not right for us, so instead we opened in Gulfport. What John and Edyth have accomplished with the location is impressive, wood and tin work hand in hand with original art and copper. Edyth, well- known from her long running restaurant Saffrons, which closed just about when we arrived in St. Pete, also runs the floor, but we never got to meet her on our visits to the restaurant, although we did see her stop by other tables of known customers and friends of hers.
One thing we always feel sets an individually owned restaurant, like ours, apart from a franchised one is the personal service and attention the customer expects and receives from the owners. That acknowledgement is what makes us then, as the guest, feel extra special, and is a bonus. when the owners don't stop by the table, bypassing us in favor of a known face, we feel slighted, as we did in these instances.
Pineapple Mint Julep in hand, my disappointment was short lived, as I was transported to the islands, Kentucky and Jamaica all at the same time, having had the bartender make mine with Rum, while Jose Luis' virgin strawberry julep reminded him of a lazy Sunday afternoon.
On our first visit we ordered the fried green tomatoes, touted by the waiter to be the best we would ever have, and the menu's description sounded like somebody put their personal touch to it. We had never had this dish with goat cheese, pecans, roasted red pepper sauce, ham and cheese grits, and we could see our physician's eyes open wide with the anticipated artery clogging ingredients, but what the heck, we don't eat like this every day.
Although we were a little surprised at the portion, don't get us wrong, the plate was over flowing with grits and other ingredients, but the paper thin slices of tomato were almost lost in the melee . The rest of the dish, thank goodness was not greasy with loads of flavor, but the 2 slivers of tomato, the main ingredient of the dish, were almost non existent. On our second trip we chose both the Sweet Potato Chips and the Corn and Oyster fritters with Spicy Tarter sauce, of which the latter had a nice consistency, but I expected more ooomph from the tarter sauce. That's when I am in heaven, expecting my tongue to sing and my throat to burn. We realize that not everybody's palate is the same and often a chef prefers to err on the safe side, as opposed to overspicing a dish, especially in a restaurant, but I expected a little more spice.
We love sweet potato chips and Jose Luis, on occasion has treated us to his twice fried version, producing a perfectly crispy chip. Here the chips came with a Spicy dipping sauce, made from blue cheese, but again it lacked that bam! quality and heat, and I would have liked the chips to be a bit more crispy.
I often order an appetizer for my main course, and stay away from most fried foods, but this is southern cuisine after all, and so far 3 of our dishes had been fried, so I thought that I might as well go for the whole enchilada, and make it 4, ordering, the Buttermilk fried chicken, stuffed with goat cheese and fresh herbs.
I was dreaming about the cracked pepper gravy that it would be topped with, thinking it would be delicious, pungent, brown, reminiscent of an Au Poivre sauce, but that became a figment of my imagination as I was somewhat disappointed to find the description different than the presentation, which looked more like a white flour roux, reminding me of, dare I say, SOS. Once I scraped away some of this thickish sauce, and regrettably with it some of the buttermilk coating, I discovered one of the best chicken breasts I have ever had, with a filling redolent with the aforementioned goat cheese and herbs.mmm....perfect.
I only started liking green vegetables again 7 years ago, after a hiatus of almost 40 years, don't ask, and so I was looking forward to the collard greens, having had some magnificent ones just last year. Usually cooked with a hamhock, lots of seasonings, sometimes with red pepper flakes or hot sauce and making sure that the center stem is removed, this can be heaven on a plate, and although we are not collard greens connoisseurs, the day we had the greens, they had a bit of a stringy, fibrous texture, were not fully cooked and with the stems not entirely removed, somewhat tough as well.
Jose Luis decided on the Jambalaya, and although forewarned by the waiter that the dish was spicy, knowing that so far the dishes had been more of low to medium heat, he ordered it according to the chefs preparation. The bottom of the bowl was resplendent with the spicy sauce, but somehow it seemed that all the other ingredients, including the sausage had not fully integrated into the dish and had been added to the creole rice at the last minute instead of simmering for up to an hour, letting the flavors slowly fuse into one delicious stew.
Another dish we tried was the shrimp with its accompanying basil and creme sauce and tasso ham and cheese grits, which also show up in the salmon dish and the pork tenderloin.
I am not one to ever ask for the chef to plate a sauce on the side, respecting his knowledge of what works best on a dish, but here again, as with the chicken, I wished that the sauce had been placed to the side of the shrimp instead of covering them in their entirety, and overpowering the tender crustaceans.
Bread Pudding lovers that we are, we could not leave without a piece of the much praised Mama D's Bread pudding, and the shear size of the portion was overwhelming enough, leaving us enough to take home as a side for our late evening cup of tea.
We know that St. Pete's dinner and bar crowd has started making its way West out of the comfort zone of Central between 1st and 5th Street, and more restaurants will pop up to encourage them, with Bella Brava leading the way, and the discovery of Savannah Cafe, Chiang Mai, Ferqs, Roman Garden, Beak's and Craftman House, not too far behind