Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not-Sketchblog 14: Food, Glorious Food

It's no secret I love my food.

Friends know that if I don't eat every couple hours I turn into a horrific she-devil beast that will likely tear your face off and eat it as a replacement for meat.

This fact has driven people to consistently ask me, "What's a good place to eat in Savannah?"

Well, it's about time I did this.
It's time for a restaurant review.

I will now list off to you the top ten restaurants (in my opinion) exclusive to downtown Savannah, and why you should eat there.

Here we go!

10. Juarez
Juarez and I have had a love-hate relationship. I love their food, but occasionally their food hates me. Their cheap, delicious burritos were a staple of my poor grad student diet, especially since they were so close to the building I found myself locked away in on a regular basis. However, after a while, this delicious tex-mex food gradually wore away at my stomach and I became unable to eat there every day. As delicious and cheap as their food is, you should take this word of caution and eat Juarez in small amounts, especially if, like me, your delicate stomach can only handle so much rich cheesy greasy goodness.

9. Saigon
A good friend of mine practically lives at Saigon, and turned me on to the unique variety of Vietnamese and Thai dishes. A little on the expensive side, Saigon is smack dab in the middle of downtown Savannah, and serves some very good food. The soups, like Tom Ka, are some of the tastiest I've had, but my personal favorite is the Masaman Curry. This is a good restaurant for an occasional indulgence with close friends.

8. Barnes
I've had Barnes quite a few times, and it's always a good day. As to be expected from a southern city, Savannah has a good selection of barbecue places, but if you want something quick and filling and cheap, Barnes is definitely the place to go. The staff is well-mannered and the food is just what you'd expect from southern cuisine: rich, fried, and tasty. I've tried many items on their menu, including their tender pulled pork sandwich, and their juicy chicken strips, but my usual has become the Grouper Finger Basket, which comes with your choice of 2 sides. I always get a side of hush puppies to go with it, and never regret the decision. Barnes is definitely a nice place to go if you're a tourist on a budget and with little time to do everything there is to do in Savannah.

7. Mellow Mushroom
Anyone in Savannah can tell you in a heartbeat what the best pizza place is: Mellow Mushroom. Run by hippies (no lie), Mellow Mushroom's dough is to die for. Hand-tossed, and coated in special seasoning, the special dough definitely makes the pizza. They also have a wide variety of pizza toppings and special orders, and a great drink list to boot. The appetizer list isn't shabby either- the pretzels are the best. My favorite pizza has quickly become the loaded potato pizza, topped with special sauce, sour cream, potatoes, chives, cheese, and more. I'm cheating a tad adding Mellow Mushroom to this list, since it's not particularly exclusive to Savannah, but it definitely holds the title of best pizza in my heart.

6. Al Salaam Deli
I'm not certain even natives of Savannah know about Al Salaam Deli. Tucked away in a small corner shop on Habersham Street, the Al Salaam Deli is by far the best middle-eastern cuisine place in downtown Savannah. Sure, it's a little off the beaten path, but it's well worth it. Their gyros are wonderful, and the fries are the greatest of any place I've eaten at in Savannah (with a hint of special seasoning). It also serves as a small convenience store, selling middle-eastern food items and drinks. One thing that also won me over about the restaurant was that they sell aloe drinks, which has become a new obsession of mine quite recently. It may look like a hole-in-the-wall sort of place, and the "wallpaper" made from old National Geographic magazines may look cheap, but the tastiness of the food and the friendliness of the cook quickly makes up for it. Definitely give it a shot... if you can find it. ;)

5. Angel's BBQ
Like Al Salaam, Angel's is a little, tucked-away shop sandwiched between two giant churches, so it's easy to miss. Despite this fact, it has a solid reputation in Savannah for being some of the best BBQ in town. I've only been there once, but I'm definitely planning to go again. Their pulled pork sandwich is excellent and their service is great. There's not much seating room, though, so go sometime when they're likely to be less busy, like on a weekday afternoon. The menu isn't the best as far as variety goes, but the atmosphere is pleasant and the small-business style is one worth supporting, especially since they work together with other local businesses like Papillote (which you'll hear about later in this post) as companions, not competitors, a principle I put deep faith and value in.

4. PJ Corner Store- Thai Cuisine
Originally a gallery-turned-convenience store, PJ Corner Store recently went through some renovations to become a convenience store shop/Thai Cuisine restaurant, and the transition couldn't have been better. There now exists in Savannah an eatery it was desperately lacking in: a good, cheap, Thai takeout place. I went there just last night for the first time and ordered the Bangkok Chicken, which I then ate leftovers of for dinner tonight, and couldn't be more pleased with it! The portions are big enough to stretch three meals from, which is good if you're a poor art student like me. The herbs used to flavor the chicken were perfect, and the rice was sweet and sticky, just the way it should be.
My friends had the vegetarian spring rolls and the pineapple fried rice and both of them were more than satisfied and expressed a desire to go back as soon as possible. Their menu has variety and their convenience store is... well... convenient to say the least. If you feel like having dessert afterward, they sell ice cream items as well! The next time I go, I plan on trying the Chicken Satay. Definitely go here if you like the food at Saigon but can't afford to eat there on a regular basis!

3. Sammy Green's
Sammy Green's has quickly become a favorite of mine. I discovered it with my friend when we were desperately searching for a cheap, quick restaurant close by to my house, and lo and behold, Sammy Green's appears in a restaurant guide. Small and quaint, this hot dog and slider restaurant is not what you'd expect. It puts value on the ingredients and affordability of its items, which is a nice change of pace from a lot of fast food restaurants. You can get almost anything on the menu (except salads) for under $3, and they have a surprisingly wide variety of sandwiches and hot dogs. As simple as hot dogs are, these are by far the best I've tasted. They split and grill the dogs to a nice crispy outer layer with juicy tender meat maintained on the inside. They'll also customize items if you ask, and are quick to serve.
Their menu is straightforward and they have weekly specials which, which can be anything from green beans to couscous. The fries are also quite delicious, and their sweets are scrumptious when they have them. Don't be deterred by the fact that this is a hot dog and slider place. They also have vegan and vegetarian-friendly items. The warm cozy atmosphere and delicious cheap food makes for a great regular place to eat at.

2. Back In The Day Bakery
Back In The Day has long been a favorite of local and temporary Savannites. Their policy of making everything in-shop doesn't fail to impress, and certainly shows in the deliciousness of their food items. From cupcakes to sandwiches to bread, everything on the menu is sheer perfection. You have to travel just a little out of the way from downtown, but it's still worth it.
The cute and comfy atmosphere and friendly employees make the experience all the better. They frequently cycle through a variety of special sweets, so you should make it a point to stop in on a regular basis to see what they've got, and so you don't miss out on anything good. They have a nice drink selection, including various coffees and teas, and the sandwiches are fantastic. The Super Chicken remains my usual order, paired with a cold glass bottle of Coke, and the occasional cupcake, Star Brownie, or piece of pie.
Their ingredients are natural, their prices are fair, and their service is more than friendly, so make sure you give them a try if you find yourself in the area.

1. Papillote

Hands down, Papillote is the best restaurant in downtown Savannah. The sheer quality of food and friendliness of service you get for the price is incomparable. In case I haven't mentioned them enough, I will reinforce my love for this place yet again. The owners are adorable and all the employees serve you with a smile on their face. The head chef, Hervé Didailler, has been professionally trained and is world-renowned for his delicious dishes, so you know you're going to get something tasty when you go there.
I've tried many things on the menu, including their own recipe of tomato soup, the Croque Monsieur, the La Parisien, and the Bouchée a la Reine (my personal favorite). Every time I go into the shop, they acknowledge me and smile, "Hello, Emily! How are you today?" They then ask if I want the usual, the Bouchée and a Mexican Coke, and I nod. Every one of the employees says hello, even if you've already been greeted and served, and are more than willing to make recommendations and friendly conversation. The environment is also inviting and the decor is warm and comfortable.
Even though it is a genuine French restaurant, it makes no attempts to be fancy or overdressed. They go on the ideals of keeping it simple so that they don't lose focus on the quality of their food, which can't be beat. Don't go thinking that it's just filling main courses, either. They sell bread, cakes, cheeses, special sauces which they make right there in the shop, and, of course, what French restaurant would be complete without a vast dessert menu?
The first dessert item I tried at Papillote was their chocolate brownie with 24karat edible gold leaf on top. You heard right. 24k edible gold. On chocolate so rich you'd think it was straight-up fudge. All for only $3.99 a bar, which isn't small to begin with. Other desserts I've sampled have included the macarons, the chocolate lava cake, and another personal favorite, the chocolate mousse, probably the best chocolate mousse I've had in my life.
The drink variety is also splendid. French and other European drinks readily available in the cooler, and their own store-made lemonade. They have seasonal items, too, based on demand, and currently the Duck Burger is a popular item (which I'm going to get next time I go in). What's also interesting about Papillote is that you bus your own table, but don't let that deter you. They'll make rounds every once in a while and ask how you're doing or offer you free samples. They're always ready to freshen your water pitcher (which is more like a vase), and chat with you about your day.
If all this doesn't encourage you enough to try Papillote out, I don't know what will.

It was extremely hard to narrow down the list to just ten places, but these are my prime locations, and will forever remain so. Savannah is full of delicious eateries, so the best option you have is to just hoof it around and don't be afraid of exploring nooks and crannies. A downside is that many places are expensive, and many places have unusual hours of operation, but if you can find some of the tucked away treasures like the ones listed above, it's well worth the trouble to eat there.

Other places that didn't make it to the top ten list, but are still worth checking out, include: Starland Café, Blowin' Smoke, T-Rex Mex, The Soda Pop Shoppe, Café Gelatohhh, Carlito's, and Wasabi's. There are, of course, dozens of other great places, but these are the ones that hold a special place in my heart during my stay here, and I will miss them all sorely when I have to say goodbye. :(

Anyway, I hope this will serve someone well, and I hope you take the time to give these amazing places your business, because they certainly deserve it. I especially believe in supporting local businesses, so I hope this encourages the business owners and encourages you to eat there.

Thanks for reading!

Love you all,
and goodnight!

Emily J. Sampson


  1. If you like Vietnamese food and can drive a little out on abercorn, I suggest Saigon Flavors on Water's Ave.

  2. Absolutely! Saigon Flavors is delicious! I've gone there many a time. I just didn't recommend it on this list because I was keeping to downtown areas, and Waters is a way's away from the touristy part of Savannah.

  3. YES! PJ Thai Take-out and Papillote are my new favorites!!!!


    I clearly need to spend a little more time at Mellow Mushroom. I constantly forget lactaid whenever I'm at MM, so my opinion is probably horribly skewed, but thus far I really prefer Sweet Melissa's. Good, simple pizza. Good crust, good sauce, good cheese - that's all it takes, and Melissa's has got it. =)

    Yay, Starland and the Soda Pop Shoppe - both close to my heart. =) And if you're into sushi, Sushi Zen is great!

    You're so right - Savannah is chock full of good eats! I can't believe I haven't even heard of some of your top ten restaurants! I'm going on a pilgrimage when I get back. ^_^

  5. @Jen: Yeah, I used to like Sweet Melissa's, but it got too greasy for me to handle, and, like Zunzi's, my stomach just couldn't handle it. Plus, I've vowed never to eat there again because of horror stories I've heard from employees (and the fact that someone I knew used to work there and it was not good).
    I was supposed to go to Sushi Zen once but it was closed when we went. :(