History, hauntings, and a feeling of being “home.” That’s how I’d sum up my time in Savannah, Georgia. I covered more than 16 miles on my bike while visiting Georgia’s First City and sampled some of the most diverse comfort food the south has to offer – from Bar-B-Q to low country shrimp boil and even alligator!
Yes, you read right. I tried alligator for the first time. Why? Because to me, I think that’s a critical part of great food discovery – you never know until you try, right? And sometimes that first bite exceeds your expectations, other times, it’s just different. Thankfully for me, I was impressed with executive chef, William Dean’s innovative take on this exotic protein and the variety of ways he prepares it (just be sure when you visit his restaurant, Alligator Soul, you try the fresh-baked bread, too – outstanding). But I digress…
It’s no secret that the south has its share of recipes that could make even the healthiest eater take a deep dive into indulgence, and that’s exactly what happened when I visited a Savannah institution, Crystal Beer Parlor. Little did I know when I asked the general manager, Paige, to give me her signature dish, she’d bring me six!
But as I made my way through each of them, I realized what she was really doing was taking care of me and making sure I didn’t leave hungry. And honestly, that’s what Savannah is all about – it’s like having a great meal in your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen, with the people who always want to take good care of you and make you feel at home. You feel like you’re part of their family and that’s the true essence of southern hospitality.
Family is also the inspiration behind a Savannah institution, Randy’s Bar-B-Q. Owner, Randy Frazier, got his love of cooking from his parents, who taught him everything he knows, and he wanted to open Randy’s to pass on that love. So he took an unsuspecting, not-so-glamorous, former car wash and breathed new life into it.
His fall-off-the-bone ribs and house-made sauces and rubs are absolutely out of this world – but don’t dare ask ‘what’s in it’ – I tried and quickly learned; Randy is as good at keeping secrets as he is cooking Bar-B-Q!
After feasting on what I refer to as my “breakfast ribs” with Randy, I made my way over to Hop Atomica, the quintessential neighborhood hangout that includes a microbrewery, distillery, and, unlike the regulars who frequent it, a menu that’s constantly changing. “Give customers new things to try and reasons to come back,” said executive chef, Brian Fiasconaro – it’s hard to argue with that!
Inspired by a simple philosophy – “make food I want to eat” – Brian treated me to pizza topped with locally grown Vidalia sweet onions and pork sausage sourced from his friends at Georgia’s own, Grassroots Farm. And as good as the pizza was, it was his trio of tacos that really blew me away! Especially the roasted butternut squash taco. Yep, you read right, squash in a taco. It was so good, I couldn’t help but declare, “that is fantastic!” and insisted that even with his changing menu, that taco is a keeper!
Southern people are known for being hospitable, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Savannah’s restaurants are also quite sustainable. Even a relative newcomer to the Savannah restaurant scene, District Seafood, is doing its part – in fact, its location at Plant Riverside District was built sustainably. It was the visionary brainchild of owner, Richard Kessler, who deliberately chose to build from what was already there – which was essentially the remains of the old power plant. His efforts made sure that as much of the original materials could be repurposed as possible – from the bricks to the iron. Today, this bustling river-front destination is doing its part by sourcing its sweet Georgia shrimp a mere 5 miles from the restaurant and pouring beer made by a local brewery located a block away; talk about a low carbon footprint!
I heard similar stories from the other restaurants I visited, including the regulated blue-crab practices followed by suppliers for Crystal Beer Parlor (and you can’t visit Savannah without trying their crab stew – it’s rich, and so worth it), as well as the strict alligator regulations followed by the small family farms who serve as a trusted source for Alligator Soul.
But the show is called “Bike to Bites,” right? And I gotta say, Savannah is absolutely stunning to see on a bike – plus – the iconic squares of downtown Savannah make for a route like no other. It’s clear that the city has invested in making its historic downtown “very bike friendly” and I highly recommend you strap on your helmet and give it a whirl. Oh, and while you’re there, if anyone happens to say to you, “it’ll make you slap your grandma,” you’ll be well prepared after watching this episode…I promise!