An interview with James Beard Award Winning Chef Mashama Bailey

An interview with James Beard Award Winning Chef Mashama Bailey

SOMETHING big happened last week. Something bigger than you or me, and something that is guaranteed to change the way people view Savannah as a culinary haven.

On May 6, Chef Mashama Bailey, Executive Chef of The Grey, was awarded a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.

The entire Southeast!

Chef Bailey, like many before her, began on a path riddled with encumbrances and naysayers.

I speak for many locals when I say, historically Savannah has not been the most welcoming when it comes to new food; and to be brutally honest, the perspective on food in Savannah has been muddled at best

As a historic town rooted in Southern tradition, the foundation for local and farm fresh food has always been present —at least until fried chicken buffets and fried seafood platters turned Savannah into a campy food destination for tourists.

The resurgence of restaurants and true Southern cuisine has been slow, at best, here. Unlike many of our now well-respected neighboring food destinations, which have put themselves on the culinary map of go-to food tourism hotspots, many say that Savannah just hasn’t quite made it there yet.

The rebirth of the food in our sister cities is not the result of a singular cause or event, but it can be said that certain historical events speed up the change.

For Charleston, Hurricane Hugo acted as the mechanism that wiped the city and made way for a big change in its culinary community. Hurricane Katrina is said to have done the same for New Orleans.

As for Atlanta, the 1996 Olympics served as the catalyst for change that helped the city become a cultural destination for food in the South.

Thankfully Savannah has not experienced a catastrophic event that forced our hand to recognize that we have the framework needed to become great. Instead our city has slowly chugged along implementing change as slowly as molasses in January.

At least that’s how it was until Chef Bailey returned to her hometown.
When Chef Bailey returned to Savannah to open up The Grey, after spending years honing her skills, she kept her head down and focused on the food she believed in.

Taking inspiration from a foremother of Southern cuisine, Edna Lewis, Chef Bailey set out to preserve history through her kitchen.

Her vision and determination is exactly why she became one of only three chefs in Savannah to be awarded a James Beard. Keep in mind the last was 19 years ago.

She was gracious enough to sit down with me and discuss her experience:

When you first stepped into a professional kitchen, did you ever think you would be where you are today?

“No, absolutely not. The first kitchen I stepped into that was professional was called the L Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a cafe that had two parts: one part was a coffee part where you got breakfast, pastries, and coffee, and the next part was more for dinner. We had a microwave; we didn’t have quarts and pints. We would use leftover containers that sour cream came in and we would wash them and reuse them. I was there for a very very short period of time, but it was the very first kitchen that I worked in while I was going to culinary school. I am a career changer so I decided to just throw myself into something, and I wanted to see if I could work in a restaurant. In this little crappy kitchen I fell in love with the industry.”

How did you feel about your second nomination?

“This time around I felt really honored. I think last year I was scared and nervous, and I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the room. I think that this year there was a little tinge of nervousness. But, I felt really honored because all of the people on those lists are such good cooks, they are such good chefs, they are such good leaders that even to be in the same conversation as them is really the point. That is enough for me.”

Who went to the award ceremony with you?

“Johno went, his wife Carole, my parents, and me. There were five of us.”

What were you thinking as you were waiting for the announcement?

“I don’t know. I was drinking from a flask while I was waiting. I had a flask of tequila.
I sort of blocked everyone out. Adrian Miller was behind me. He is a cookbook author, and he is really awesome. He sat right behind us and he taped the whole thing. It’s on YouTube: ‘Mashama wins the Beard.’ It is kind of beautiful because he actually caught the moment of it. The thing I feel bad about, I thought about it after and before I knew there was a video, I was like, “I don’t think I hugged my parents.” Carole was the first person I hugged, Johno was the second person because I made a beeline to get out of the spotlight.”

Did you prepare your speech?

“No. I wrote down my parents, Johno, Edna Lewis, the James Beard Foundation. I just wrote down these names and words so I would not forget anything, but I did not prepare a full-on speech.”

What did your parents have to say?

“They were just like wow, you know. They were really disappointed last year. I don’t think we were disappointed last year, I think we just had to put on a face to be like it is okay everyone, it is totally fine. It is really a rite of passage. I think last year they were really bummed, and I think this year they were really happy.”

What did Johno have to say?

“I couldn’t make it out through his tears.”

Did you cry with him?

“I didn’t cry until a little later honestly. When I gave him a hug he was just like, “Congratulations, I am so happy for you.” He really just said congratulations over and over. Then I spoke to him later on after the awards were over and we were out in the lobby, and we both started kind of tearing up then, because it started to set in that this is something that not only I accomplished but we accomplished. On stage I said he was my backbone. Johno will throw down for anyone in this restaurant. He is the most loyal person I know. I think a lot of his vision and a lot of his drive is why we are where we are. Even when you think I am going to rest a little bit, he is like “But you didn’t finish this?” or “You didn’t do that.” There is always more to do for him. I think it is really nice to learn from someone like that.”

What’s the one piece of advice to cooks or chefs stepping into a professional kitchen for the first time?

“One of the pieces of advice that I received was to make sure that you love it. I didn’t know what that meant. When I first decided to cook, I think I was very interested in it and I thought I was very capable of it. It took me until I really had to work hard to fall in love with it. So, making sure that you love it is something that you have to ask yourself. No one else can tell you that. Know your history, read, know who the chefs are, know what the competition is, learn from people. And be kind.”

Original article is here.

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Forsyth Farm Picnic

Forsyth Farm Picnic

MANY Savannahians are unaware that a large dairy farm once operated behind Tennessee Avenue. But for many locals, like myself, the piece of property that used to be the Roberds Dairy Farm has served as a historic and memorable addition to the city.

Where cows once roamed, locals now play. I myself have spent many hours walking my dog around the sprawling acreage. The property itself is a vast piece of land that still holds remnants of its dairy days, including the original dairy processing building and fenced-in fields.

The once abandoned dairy plant now holds the work of sculptor Matt Toole. A portion of the field is occupied by the bounty of Victory Gardens, and you can even find Pegasus Riding Academy hosting classes there.

For others this space has served as a unique place to take pictures, take a walk, or even lay to rest the dog that you used to walk around the marsh riddled property.

The Forsyth Farmers’ Market is another organization that has added to the value of the old Roberds Dairy Farm. Once a year the Forsyth Farmers’ Market hosts a fundraiser event in the fields of the beautiful farm—The Forsyth Farm Picnic.

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I first discovered the Forsyth Farm Picnic after being handed a flyer at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market several years ago, I purchased a ticket as soon as I got home and put away my groceries.

And since first attending the event, I make a point to calendar the gathering as soon as the dates come up on the website.

I spoke with the Executive Director of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, Jeb Bush, to learn more about the once-a-year event I look forward to so much.

The Farm Picnic is a yearly event that was created to support and raise money for the mission of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. Although the money raised from ticket sales benefits the local market, the small price of the ticket makes it feels as though you are actually gaining all of the benefit. For a small ticket fee guests get to spend an afternoon on a picnic blanket eating local food, sipping local beer, and listening to local music.

As Bush explains it, “The picnic started five years ago as special event for the ‘friends of the market.’ However, we felt like this was not being inclusive to the community. We changed it during the second year to be open to everyone. This will be our fifth year.”

The first thing I do when I arrive is scope out the perfect shaded spot to spread out my blanket, it is usually close to the music. This year the band was The Hypnotics. I then grab an ice cold beer to sip while I wait in line for food, which runs out rather quickly.
The line for food was just as long as the sprawling line of food. Picnicgoers are given a wide range of options from well established restaurants around town.

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Bush says it best: “The food is always the highlight of this event. There are 11 different restaurants participating this year. We have El Coyote,The Grey, Pacci, Atlantic, Husk, Cha Bella, Green Truck Pub, Kayak Cafe, Sentient Bean, Bull Street Taco, and Savannah Square Pops. We also have the local cupcake brigade bringing great cupcakes.”

Come for the charity, sit for the music, and stay for the food. At this small local event it is easy to get lost in the breezy weather of spring, sitting chatting with your friends, and eating farm fresh food.

There is one criteria for a restaurant to be featured, Bush says. “All of the restaurants that are participating are farm to table.”

It’s difficult not to get one of everything, and truly the only thing that stopped me was the loss of available room on my plate. Options included carnitas from El Coyote, fried rice that was peppered with fresh farm vegetables, gooey macaroni and cheese, vinegar soaked greens, tofu with an orange glaze, mushroom pate on toast, three types of fresh baked bread, a much needed light salad, and decadent cupcakes.

Even though there was plenty of sweets to go around, I could help myself but grab a locally handmade popsicle from Savannah Square Pops. This year’s options included their Milk N’ Honey, Tart Lemonade, Strawberry Balsamic, Black Cherry Peach, Cookies & Cream, Peach Mango, and Strawberry Lemonade. Without thought, I ordered a Milk N’ Honey, the perfect silky sweet balance to my tangy sangria.

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Brighter Day provided fruit for red sangria, easy for sipping under the moss laden trees that surround the bustling cow pasture.

Service Brewery, as they have for the past few picnics, serviced patrons with their locally brewed beers. The selection was between one of their fundamental brews, the Ground Pounder pale ale, and a brand new Research and Development peanut butter banana beer that featured cayenne, toasted coriander, and lime.

Service Brewery has been supporting the Farm Picnic for sometime, so selecting the Picnic’s featured beer was a no brainer. Even Miss Zoe Dog and Sophie, their Instagram-famous pups, made it out to the Picnic to hang out with all of the patrons of the festival.
For non-drinkers, this year Perc Cold Brew was available along with tea and lemonade.

If you did not get enough doggo kisses from Miss Zoe, there were plenty of goats hopping around the field. Bootleg Farm, a local goat farm that creates their own artisan cheeses, set up a mini petting zoo with several off their farm friends.

Support from the city along with time has only made the picnic swell in size. This year grew even larger and featured kids crafts from Loop It Up Savannah and hayrides from Pegasus Riding Academy.

Every year I attend the event only seems to grow in scale. If you missed this year’s Picnic, you can mark your calendar for next April and buy tickets online through www.forsythfarmersmarket.com

Original article is here.

My Favorite Sushi on Tybee: Raw Ingredients

My Favorite Sushi on Tybee: Raw Ingredients

OUR port city boasts a wealth of seafood. You can get it grilled, blackened, fried, steamed, whole, on the half shell, or filleted.

Even as much as there is available in our local sea of seafood, not every fish is seen as desirable. The biggest concentration of fishy fare is on Tybee Island, which is as to be expected.

And with so many options, it can be seemingly difficult to decide where to shake out the sand and fill your belly after a long day at the beach.

For the past few years, Raw Ingredients has made that choice easier, I would argue in an undebatable way. Raw makes it much easier for seafood aficionados to rendezvous with fresh fish expertly rolled into creative sushi. Marshall Stevens and Ian Davis opened the joint, eventually bringing in Marshall’s brother Myles Stevens to act as the Director of Operations. The idea was to fill a large hole that was present in the restaurant market of Tybee.

Myles tells the me tale of Raw Ingredients.
“They were working in the surf shops, hustling, and had all of these different ideas,” he says. “This building became available, they were across the street working, and the owner of the building was like, ‘Hey guys, I am going to put this building up for lease.’ They brainstormed and decided to open a sushi restaurant.”

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But before opening the doors, Marshall and Ian gained experience by working at various sushi restaurants. The rest was history—everything fell into place and Tybee was never the same.

When you have the love of your locals, success comes easy on Tybee, which becomes apparent in the slow months when all of the tourists have packed up their beach bags and headed back inland.

The idea is to “put out high quality food and in a place where you are comfortable being. Where you can come in, be yourself and relax, and enjoy yourself and still enjoy high quality food,” says Myles.

As for the menu, the most important part of any good shop, it was a collaborative effort, and according to Myles, “also testing the competition, seeing what the competition is doing, then taking what they are doing and adding our own flair.”

I remember the first time I discovered Raw, picking up a Create Your Own Bowl at the end of a long, salty day on Tybee. And since trying it for the very first time, several years ago, the store has only extended its menu into bigger and better options.

Myles says they “didn’t [expand the menu] the first two years. We had a solid menu then added some other things like the Hide Tide and the Spring Roll.”

As one of my favorite menu items, which you will still find on the menu featured along with a few new Create You Own variations, making your own bowl is a great starting point for newcomers.

The available ingredients to pick include twelve different proteins, all of the classic sushi options of course, a plethora of vegetables to layer in, and a choice of sauce to finish it all off. The caveat is, it is extremely easy to go overboard with all of the quality options—but who is judging?

Why not add in multiple sauces and all of your favorite sushi proteins, especially considering “almost all of the sauces are made in house,” as Myles says.

My typical bowl includes shrimp tempura, spicy kani (crab), seaweed, avocado, carrots, spicy mayo, and eel sauce.

The same ingredients can be placed on top of a salad, rolled into a burrito, or handcrafted into a sushi roll you can name after yourself.

If you do not want to create your own, instead relying on the expert’s hand, you will find classic sushi rolls like the California, Spicy Tuna, Spider, and Philadelphia on the menu.

There are the Simple sushi rolls like an Avocado, Cucumber, or Salmon roll, and finally the best options of all of handcrafted rolls—the Special rolls.

The Special rolls are where the store really showcases its unique perspective and style, which you probably already gathered from the the walls that are covered in rotating hand drawn art by Jessica B., a good friend of the restaurant.

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My favorite roll is the Flamingo Roll. Its bright colored soy paper wrap makes it easy to ascertain where the roll got its name. Spicy crab meat, avocado, eel, and tempura shrimp, make up this satisfying work of art. For me, there is not a better combination of ingredients that you can put inside of a roll.

Taken as a whole, the flavors that fill your mouth are spicy, sweet, fatty, nutty, and finally umami from the fish—a sticky, sauce-covered creation that I dream about. Ingredient-wise, it is relatively close to the Create Your Own Bowl I order.

The High Tide is filled with shrimp, cheese, and fresh avocado then topped with salmon before the entire roll gets a bake. The tiny touch of baking the finished roll changes the flavor profile of the entire dish, illustrating the distinctive style of Raw.

Keeping with the imaginative theme, the Chathamite is yet another roll that is unique to the store. It features fried shrimp, and rightly so. Alongside the shrimp sits cucumber, a summer fruit that can be found on so many southern tables. The final touch is a topping of spicy tuna and seaweed.

There is much more to come from the cool cats at Raw. The sushi team is set to open a brand new spot next door Ripe Ingredients. The new joint to maintain the cool laid back attitude of Raw while offering high quality and well made smoothies, sandwiches, wraps, and more.

I know I will be keeping an eye out for its inception this summer and stop by to grab a light lunch to take with me to the beach.

Original article is here.

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Savannah’s Most Loved Food Family – Big Bon – Expands To Bagels

Savannah’s Most Loved Food Family – Big Bon – Expands To Bagels

A BODEGA is a small grocery store, a place where you can stop in grab beer, wine, and snacks in a pinch.

Now Bodega means a small local storefront that turns out woodfire bagels right here in our town.

The Big Bon family started out with a truck and a dream, albeit a truck with a large wood fire pizza oven on the back. Most locals have devoured Big Bon Pizza’s pizza at various locations around town, wherever Big Bon had parked its oven.

Kay Heritage and her daughter Anna started their adventure with Big Bon Pizza in 2016. A speedy success, the duo decided to expand their woodfire resume to include bagels with the opening of Big Bon Bodega at the beginning of April.

They also added a new team member to the family, Charlotte Masters, Creative Director. The result is the cumulation of the Heritage’s southern Korean roots and Masters’ well deserved art degree into the newest spot that locals are flocking to.

“The purpose of Big Bon is to equip our young team members with business and life skills. And as Big Bon Pizza team started to grow in numbers, we needed a home base where we can expand our purpose and to connect with our community closer in a permanent structure. Big Bon Pizza will continually remain intentionally mobile and do wood fired bagels at the Bodega,” Masters says.

Though the on-the-go pizza oven is incredibly convenient and accessible, for food this delicious, brick and mortar is the best thing that could happen for customers. It’s not often you find the Big Bon mobile oven without a line three bumpers down, so it’s great for patrons to have a place to sit down for a solid meal without standing in the street.

Going out on a limb, I’ll assume that everyone has at least tasted the delicious pizza pies that Big Bon has been pumping out for the last few years. But if you thought those slices of heaven were great, just wait until you see what else they have in store.

Masters and the crew are pumping out bagel sandwiches that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the doughy circles of deliciousness.

“Our bagel recipe is inspired by Montreal style wood fired bagels. The recipe is based from our great friends in DC area, Call Your Mother Deli, they were so generous to share their recipe. We brought it home and tested and refined it with the help from friends at Mate Factor. We wanted to make our bagels truly unique by using local raw honey and molasses in our dough and boiling water,” Masters says.

I was able to grab a few bagels although the first week Bodega opened they maintained a line around the block. Don’t be scared by the crowds—they’re there for a reason.

The expansion of a pizza company into bagels may seem odd, but once you have one of these little halos of yeasty perfection, you’ll understand why the owners decided to move in that direction.

The best part about Bodega’s artisan bagels is the light finish of smoke that is imparted through it’s cook in the big woodfire pizza oven that sits in corner. That’s something you don’t normally get with a bagel, and, let me tell you, the charry chew of a smoky bagel was something that I didn’t know I needed.

Obviously the options for what you can order are endless—you can get a plain bagel, a bagel with a smear, a dozen, or a bagel sandwich. And let me be the first to tell you that these bagel sandwiches aren’t like anything you’ve had before.

The thought that went into each and every option is clearly tasted with every bite. I would say there’s something for everybody, but not everybody can take the flavor bombs that Bodega is pumping out of their woodfire cannon.

Patrons have the option to buy a single bagel, a half dozen, a baker’s dozen, or—in my opinion the best way order a bagel—as a sandwich.
After looking at the menu, I couldn’t be swayed from ordering the Spicy Mama. I would recommend getting it on a sesame bagel, but any of the artisanal bagel options work perfectly.

Fork tender pork bulgogi, Korean style barbeque meat, sits in the middle of the sliced and toasted bagel along with crunchy peanut slaw and a gooey, fiery kimchi cream cheese. The finished sandwich encompasses all flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and ultra savory umami.

The kimchi—a staple Korean dish made by fermenting vegetables with spices—is a “nod to Kay’s heritage, pun intended, we will be featuring Kay’s family Kimchi recipe in jars for sale at the Bodega.” Masters confessed when I inquired as to the origin of the store’s special recipes.

On the sandwich list you will also find The Donna—a turkey, avocado, and bacon option, which tastes perfect on an everything bagel.

On the more classic bagel shop side of the menu you will find the Lox and Schmear. It is a hearty dish created with delicate smoked salmon, sharp red onion, cucumber, arugula, and house made lemon caper cream cheese.

The Veggie meets all the needs of non-meat eaters. This sandwich features vibrant pickled purple beets layered with sprouts, radishes, and spiced walnuts. In the place of cream cheese, hummus is slathered on.

I will encourage everyone to try multiple options because each sandwich has its own unique flavor profile and each is worth tasting.
As I mentioned at the start of this thing, the new store, or bodega, goes way beyond bagels.

Masters explains, “Bodega itself will house not only delicious wood fired bagels, sandwiches, and yum-yums, but also featuring local specialty foods like Libbie Summer’s Yum Yum Smile Shop products, and Hale tea, healthy pick up snacks and local craft beer and wine. The Big Bon team wanted to have more than just a bagel shop, from the start so we designed our small space to be thoughtful and transformative so we can open it up at night to host local creatives and special pop up dinners.”

Original article is here

Savannah’s Oldest Bakery,Gottlieb’s, Starts Dinner Service

Savannah’s Oldest Bakery,Gottlieb’s, Starts Dinner Service

THERE ARE certain restaurants that could be designated cornerstones of Savannah’s food scene. For a BLT salad you go to the Olde Pink House, for ice cream it’s Leopold’s, and for decadent oversized baked goods, specifically for me the caramel roll, Gottlieb’s Bakery is the choice.

At least that was the way until a few weeks ago, when Gottlieb’s decided to expand their repertoire to include brunch on Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

The second I heard, I zoomed over to check it out. I visited on a Friday evening, and sat down to chat baked goods with Laurence Gottlieb while his brother Michael Gottlieb cooked dinner in the back.

The rest of the patrons filled the side of the shop where Laurence bakes, sitting at the actual tables where he rolls out his dough on every early morning. Eating at this table provides an experience that allows you to daydream of kneading, twisting, and filling pastries while you eat.

In the back sits a modest kitchen in which Michael impressively cranks out dish after dish for the influx of patrons that fill the family shop.

The fourth generation Gottlieb brothers re-opened the more than 100 year-old bakery and brought their own experience and tastes to the table.

“We are slowly incorporating old school bakery products into the mix as well as having fun creating new bakery items based on inspiration from old family recipes,” Michael elaborates.

The two work together like peas and carrots—Laurence the baker and Michael the cook. With their powers combined, the resulting food is well thought out and prepared exquisitely.

Most locals know and love the institution that has been Gottlieb’s Bakery, so speaking to the quality of their food didn’t require many questions on my end; the reputation speaks for itself. I was, however, curious to learn why the family bakers decided to expand to dinner service.

Michael explains, “Dinner was brought on by our desire to showcase our passion for food influenced by bakery products and ingredients found around us. Baking is our second calling (well first really as we grew up in the bakery), working in kitchens serving fun foods is where Laurence and I both started in our careers.”

Just as surprised as I was to learn about the ever growing and changing bakery, I was surprised to find a well rounded menu. You’ll find anything from fluffy gnocchi coated in pesto to an earthy roasted mushroom burger.

Up close of the mushroom burger

Michael educated me on how bakers with a lifetime of experience go about creating a savory dinner menu:

“Laurence and I talk about weekly bakery production and see what items, doughs or desserts will be floating around and then the menu is created based on those influences. We also look at seasonal products that are coming into play and showcase those based on our menu writing experience,” he says.

To create each recipe, old or new, the process is simple according to Michael:

“The dinner and brunch items are based on our love of food, travel and past work experiences. We enjoy a free flowing menu that incorporates foods from all over. Currently we are having fun creating and paying homage to our favorites and the challenge of recreating a dish that would normally cost $30 plus in a more formal setting but figuring out how to serve the same quality at a $15 – $17 price point,” he says.

I started with a shareable dish, the Foie-nut. For this rich starter a warm sticky sweet donut is served with seared Hudson Valley foie gras. A hint of texture is added to the outside of the velvety delicacy.

The salty/sweet combination is finished with a sprinkling of nuts and a sticky sauce. Foie and doughnuts is what chicken and waffles wants to be.

It is the right time of year to find soft shell crab featured on the brand new menu. Gottlieb’s offers theirs spewing over its bun.

The bread—tender with a chewy outside—was the perfect vessel to deliver the meaty flash fried soft shell crab. As you bite into the sandwich, the expertly baked bread gives away just enough to let the crab shine. The finished sandwich had all the textures and flavors of a stellar deli sandwich but with a salty fare flare.

The Grilled Charleston Cheese Curd Sandwich was recommended to me, probably because it is one of the more unique items on the menu. Creamy curds are paired with a spicy sweet apricot horseradish and floral herbed olive oil. The dish comes together like an upscale sandwich version of that pepper jelly covered cream cheese party dish that so many locals make.

In lieu of staple Savannah shrimp and grits, the brothers serve red fish over creamy grits with basil and a corn cream. The fish is well seasoned, cooked delicately, and serves as the perfect counterpart to its base of custard like ground southern corn.

The mushroom burger will make you forget meat. A gigantic slice of mushroom is layered with charred onions and sharp melted cheddar between the same handmade bun that serves the crab.

The best part of my meal was how warm and welcoming the Gottlieb duo was. Their hospitality truly pays homage to the legacy that is the Gottlieb family.

The restaurant does not have a liquor license, so don’t forget your favorite bottle (or two) of wine to pair with your meal. You can replace the empty space in your bag with a take home box full of fritters, cookies, and danishes.

Click here for the original article.

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

HAVE YOU ever had famous cake pops? I have and I am never going back.

Unfortunately for me, I did not discover the professional (and television worthy) cake pops of Sweet Whimsy Shop until this year. I assure you, I have eaten my weight in cake balls to make up for lost time.

As a licensed cottage bakery, Sweet Whimsy Shop has been providing the Savannah area with unique and artful cake pops for some time and eventually made a star studded appearance on The Late Late Show. Impressively, Sweet Whimsy’s TV debut happened only three short years after opening shop doors.

Owner and master creator Becca Aronowitz quit her full time job as a middle school teacher in 2012 to begin her journey as a bakery owner. Her background in art has served her well.

“I’ve always loved creating, in any form, and I think I identify more as an artist or maker, than a baker specifically. I began taking after school art classes as a 7 year old. I have degrees in art education, and I was an art teacher for several years,” she explains.

The result is a bakery that focuses on ensuring each resulting product is a work of art. As far as cake pop art goes, she’s Andy Warhol.

Aronowitz takes the time to hand sculpt each and every cake popsicle before decorating them by hand. The attentive attention to detail is what sets her art on a stick aside from all other cake pop makers around the lowcountry. Each finished contoured, compact cake is worthy of the Louvre.

To create the luscious lollipops, Aronowitz mixes the perfect ratio of tender, moist cake with homemade frosting.

“I’ve always been committed to using scratch-baked cake & frosting for my cake pops. Many cake pop makers use boxed mixes and canned frosting, but I believe my creations should taste as good as they look, and if you’re going to make something as labor-intensive as a cake pop, shouldn’t it be worth consuming?” Aronowitz elaborates.

Using the correct amount of cake and frosting is extremely important. Too little frosting and the cake pop will be dry, crumbly, and difficult to shape; too much frosting and the resulting goodies will be overly sweet and taste only of icing.

Sweet Whimsy Shop has it down to a science. Every single lolli has a tender, slightly moist center that reveals itself upon chomping down on the crunchy outer shell of the treat. The cake itself melts in your mouth, allowing the flavoring of the pop to flood your palate.

After the cake and frosting is mixed, Aronowitz portions out each ball of cake. Then the cake ball is individually hand sculpted before being dipped into a chocolate shell.

I ask Aronowitz how she comes up with each inspired design, and she tells me, “Most of my ideas and designs are created in response to client requests. Sometimes a client will present a photo of a cake pop design she’d like reproduced. If that’s the case, and it’s not one of my designs, I try to customize it to avoid copying and I credit the original creator whenever they can be identified. Sometimes the client has a theme or general vision, and I try to create a cake pop collection that will coordinate with the theme, or realize the vision.”

For my set of cake pops, I asked that she make anything she felt like making. Aronowitz designed and delivered the cutest set of avocado, llama, taco, and cactus cake pops. The avocados are the newest addition to Sweet Whimsey’s portfolio.

Past designs have included anything from a thanksgiving turkey to taxi cab. I even found cake designed to look like a margarita glass on her website.
Inside each of my personal pops were the shop’s signature flavors, Yummy Vanilla Cake and Decadent Chocolate. Aronowitz told me that the vanilla and chocolate are the most popular flavors. The chocolate was my personal favorite.

Customers have the choice for a mix-in of sprinkles or candy into their design. Kiddie Party Mix is a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles layered in and the Chocolate Rainbow Explosion features chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles.

Reese’s peanut butter cups fill the Vanilla Reese’s and the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter includes chocolate with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips. My next order will definitely test out one of the Reese’s inspired creations.

I ask Aronowitz if Sweet Whimsy offers any other special flavors. “I also offer seasonal flavors, like Green Velvet for St. Patrick’s Day. During September, October, and November, I offer Pumpkin Spice. It’s made with real pumpkin and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and it’s so good! Cozy Gingerbread was introduced this winter, after a test-taste vote during one of my pop-ups in November. I can also do custom flavors, like the Blonde Velvet I made for a friend’s wedding. It’s a red velvet recipe but made without the dye; I like it better that way!”

Sweet Whimsy Shop is constantly designing and creating, like any true committed artist. The success of the cottage shop has pushed Aronowitz to expand to other mediums.

“Cake pops are still the majority of what I make, but I am slowly expanding to include other small, very cute treats. The focus will always be on edible art that is whimsical, created with precision, and great-tasting. I have figured out how to do that very well with cake pops, but the vision extends further,” she says.
To be expected, just as much detail and finesse into all of her new treats and flavors.

If you take a peek at her instagram, @sweetwhimseyshop, you will find chocolate covered Oreos (with decorations of course), rice crispy pops, and many other brilliantly designed and decorated confections.

Original article is here.

JThomas Kitchen

JThomas Kitchen

DURING MY four year college tenure, my course load required completion of a marketing class.

One of the important principles of marketing is to never rely on word of mouth, instead opt for instituting a marketing plan. And while as a business owner that very well may be true, as a food writer nothing can be further than the truth.

Word of mouth is something that I follow and trust (especially in Savannah where most news worth hearing travels fastest that way). If you do not have the love of your town and locals are not talking about your food, then you shouldn’t be reading about it.

When I have multiple people go out of their way to tell me about a place that they love to frequent, I instantly add that restaurant to my list of places to share.

JThomas Kitchen is one of those stores that locals kept bringing up, so I decided to head down to the location myself and find out what all the fuss was about. Owner and Chef Joshua Thomas was kind enough to tell me his story and of how JThomas came to grace our Southern town.

His culinary journey began in Savannah, where he was born and raised, working with his dad at a local restaurant. He spent a lot of time in many Savannah restaurants before receiving his own classical training through culinary school.

Chef Thomas plating chicken and waffles

“I said this is what I want to do, so I went to Johnson & Wales and got a bachelors degree. I hopped around and worked for some really great chefs that have taught me alot,” Chef Thomas gladly told me.

When he returned to Savannah, Chef Thomas furthered his career and opened his highly successful catering business—JThomas Catering & Events. Eventually, as space become available, Chef Thomas decided to expand his business to include a lunch counter with soups, salads, and sandwiches.

It was no surprise that lunch service was a huge success, so Chef Thomas expanded again, and now his business includes a restaurant with dinner service.

So how does a Chef approach his dinner menu after running a successful catering business for so long? Chef Thomas explained it to me without hesitation:

“Our menu is kinda fun, what we have done is taken simple food and made it really good.”

Everything I ate during my visit was just that, extremely well executed dishes by an expert hand. Chef Thomas wasn’t wrong either—the menu is really fun.

Although Chef Thomas’ approach is simple, his menu has something for everyone. He elaborated, “You can come in for dinner and get anything from bolognese to a hamburger, but we are doing it the old school way by grinding the meat, seasoning it and patting it. We make the pasta, make the sauce, and using the classical french techniques that we were taught in school.”

chicken and waffles with cream

I insist that you go straight for the Chicken ‘In’ Waffles. Chef Thomas offers guests his take on classic Chicken and Waffles dish by putting the chicken inside of the waffle.

Brined and sous-vide chicken is flash fried in waffle batter then served floating on a cloud of whipped maple syrup that has the consistency of marshmallow fluff. To round out the flavor, the dish is finished with a smoked paprika oil.

You will be satisfied with any main course that you pick, so try one and come back another day to try something different.

The Braised Beef Shoulder is slow roasted for two full days before arriving at your table. You could look at the tender hunk of meat and it would fall apart.

The beef tastes of nostalgia from your mother’s slow cooker, yet is refined with a slathering of sticky sweet root beer syrup and foundation of silky whipped potatoes. Scattered about, your fork will find an array of roasted vegetables like green beans, carrots, and potatoes, just like you would find at the bottom of any home cooked roast.

Red Snapper was the Fresh Catch the day I stopped in for my meal. To ensure the filet of fresh fish is served with an extra crispy skin the kitchen removes its skin then hard sears the filet at a very high heat, which creates its crunchy outside.

Red Snapper ontop of a corn rissotto

Inside, the giant steak of red snapper remains juicy and delicate. The generous portion of fish is served resting on top of a hill of creamy risotto that is peppered with roasted corn. To finish the dish, a heaping pat of scampi butter is added to balance the lean fish on your palate with a little fat.

Chef Thomas recognized the desire of Savannah locals to find a good steak on the menu. He has include three essential cuts, a filet, new york strip, and a ribeye.

The USDA Prime Beef Filet is served steak house style, sizzling hot with just the right amount of butter resting on top. Unlike many steak houses, Chef Thomas takes the time to well season his steak which adds to the steak’s crust which is created through proper cooking techniques. My favorite part of the dish was his use of an extremely unique black cherry demi-glace that was deeply rich.

You get a choice of Chop House sides with each steak. Every single option includes the same finesse used for all of Chef Thomas’ creations including Gouda Mac and Cheese. Need I say more?

Dessert may be the hardest thing to choose. The rows of baked goods behind the store’s glass display cabinet that sits in the dining room is staggering. Cookies, cakes, and bars are just a fraction of the items you will find on JThomas Kitchen’s overflowing bakery counter.

Beyond the food, the most impressive aspect of my visit was watching Chef Thomas interact with the influx of patrons that called him by name, all while he was cooking in a busy kitchen.

Watching Chef Thomas greet so many patrons as if they are old friends confirmed that everything I had heard was true, and it screamed Southern hospitality. I promise my confirmation had nothing to do with the enormous amount of food I devoured.

Original article is here.

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

THERE IS now a one stop shop for all things brewed: coffee, tea, kombucha, cider, and more importantly beer and wine.

In the thick of an up and coming part of town, the new restaurant and beer garden Brewed SAV sits right off Habersham near 34th.

The casual destination for locals is the creation of Douglas Galloway and Amy Livingood. The two came together through a mutual love of craft beer after meeting at the Savannah Climbing CoOp.

If you stop by the brick building on a breezy March Saturday afternoon, like I did last week, an ice cold frothy beer straight from the tap is a must.

Livingood is the expert on the offerings of Brewed Brews so I will let her explain what is available from their taps.

“We have 16 craft regional taps, but started our launch with all Georgia craft beer. Georgia was the last state to change brewery laws to allow breweries to sell directly out of their tap room,” she says.

That development is a game changer in that it allows breweries the revenue in house to experiment and grow.

“Georgia’s beer scene is a new frontier after the law changes, and we expect a lot of awesome new ones to open in the near future!” she says.

I am a fan of darker, more robust beers so I went for the Arches Brick & Maple, a nutty caramel brown ale. The list has something for everyone—IPAs, sours, stouts, lagers, and more.

For true Southerners, good iced cold tea is just as important on a hot afternoon as is having a cold one. Keeping with the brewed theme, and paying homage to our Southern town, Brewed Brews recognized that including the leafy steeped drink was a must. Just as much thought was put into the selection of teas, the same care was taken in selecting the keg behind each tap.

Livingood explained the selection to me.

“We met John Arnold from Hale Tea Company through James Spano after picking out our coffee roast. I wasn’t into tea until I moved to Savannah where I realized why everyone craves an ice cold tea on a hot afternoon,” she says.

“I trust James Spano’s taste and immediately found perfect loose leaf teas to create long process toddy teas, and it’s become one of the more surprising and creative parts of Brewed that we hope to continue to build on as summer approaches.”

Finally, the drink menu has a wide selection of coffee concoctions: The most important drink of the morning, especially when you have had too many libations.

The Hot Toddy is unique to Brewed SAV, and as told by Livingood, “I discovered concentrated iced toddy coffee in college when I was trying to maximize my ability to study and work at the same time.”

As for the coffee itself, the menu uses locally roasted Cup to Cup coffee, and the blend of coffee used by the store is dubbed Camp Coffee.

“When we started looking for a local roaster to partner with,” Livingood told me, “we fell in love with Cup to Cup’s earthy and chocolate note small batch roasts and I perfected our ‘camp coffee’ on one of our many 6+ hour road trips to climb in Chattanooga where I would wake everyone up the next day to a kick in the pants cold brew coffee to help us all hike as fast as possible and send all the routes and still have energy for a beer around the campfire after.”

If you sit too long throwing back drinks and watching soccer on their big screens, you will definitely want to order some snacks.

Go for the Obatzda Spread which is served with Auspicious Bakery pretzel crackers. Obatzda is a Bavarian dish made by combining multiple cheeses and spices. Brewed Brews makes theirs with brie and paprika (because paprika makes anything taste amazing). You will be tempted to shovel this dip into your mouth by the spoonful.

Do not expect to find just a few simple bar snacks. According to Livingood, “Our menu falls in line with German beer hall offerings. We have cheese spreads, cheese and meat boards, and are getting our pretzel crackers, country loafs, and focaccia from Auspicious Baking Company. A crowd favorite this first week has been our pimento cheese spread that we offer with pretzel crackers from Auspicious or as our ‘Hard Working Lunch’ special as a no crust sandwich paired with a Coors Banquet. The pimento recipe is a family recipe from the Matthews that Smith was kind enough to share with us.”

The Hard Working Lunch is a hand-cut, round white bread sandwich jammed with Southern pimento cheese and a vine ripe slice of red tomato. To wash it down, the tray of food is served with a tallboy Coors Banquet Beer.

Every baked item within the four walls is baked by Auspicious, which means you will find a large assortment of expertly baked pastries at all times in the pastry case.

I couldn’t resist taking home a Nutella filled Poptart home to have a treat for later.

Even if you don’t need an excuse to go sit at Savannah’s newest casual local beer house, at any time you can find a fun event or great game being hosted by the team at Brewed Brews.

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

AIRSTREAMS are super cool, but an Airstream that sells seasonally inspired food all around Savannah gives this one quite a leg up on the rest that I’ve seen.

The 26-foot 1967 Airstream Ambassador I refer to is the newest food truck to take our town by storm. Strangebird, the sister food truck to Bluffton, S.C., restaurant FARM Bluffton, has quickly become a grub mobile that I seek out anytime it comes over the bridge.

I think it’s fair to call Strangebird Savannah’s first farm-to-truck establishment.

Strangebird Chef and partner Brandon Carter told me the story of how the truck came about.

“We’re an extension of FARM Bluffton. We purchased the Airstream as a way to test out new concepts, do off-site catering and as a way to do community outreach events. Strange Bird is our new baby and we’re super excited about the possibilities,” Carter says.

How exciting is it for Savannah to get its own taste of one of Bluffton’s most popular food destinations?

The Strangebird truck is the first Airstream I have encountered in our port city, naturally making me curious as to why the team settled on a tin trailer.

“We bought one to fix up and then came across this one, which was already converted. We couldn’t pass up the offer. We wanted to have greater mobility so we could bring our experience to different venues. We like the airstream because of the aesthetic,” explains Chef Carter.

The foodies who seek out our new local restaurant on wheels can expect a constantly rotating menu that uses only the freshest farm ingredients.

According to Chef Carter, “We have an extensive network of farmers and artisan producers that we use at Farm. It made sense to continue supporting the people who support us with Strange Bird.”

A guest being served from the truck
Some of the purveyors include well known and loved local farms like Canewater Farm, Georgia Olive Farms, and Rainwater Mushrooms.

Because the ingredients used are locally sourced, the root of each menu always has a southern side. The use of butter beans in lieu of pinto beans as the base of their refried beans demonstrates just that.

A past menu even had a fried bologna sandwich, which is something I always relate to the truly Southern, and handmade tater tots.

Bringing on extreme nostalgia, the inner child in me almost cried upon discovering I had missed the fried bologna sandwich, a treat that is so often prepared for family by Southern grandmothers.

The ingredients themselves are not the only consideration put into the creation of each menu by Chef Carter.
As he puts it, “We create menus based on what’s growing and where we’re popping up.”

As more vibrant and readily available produce becomes available with the warmer months, it will be thrilling to see the new dishes that are created.

Another important question I wanted answered was how the title Strangebird came about.
The answer is simpler than you think.

“Our chef de cuisine Burns Sullivan has been experimenting with a marinade for our grilled chicken. It combines flavors from Sichuan Guaiwei seasoning [this translates to ‘strange taste’ so you can see the connection] and jerk. It is unbelievably good grilled on charcoal,” says Carter.

Past menus have included a Strange Chicken Taco, a Green Chorizo Taco, and a Cauliflower Macha Taco.

Their chicken taco is plated with cool cabbage, tender beans, punchy onions, and a creamy white barbecue sauce.

The spicy chorizo taco is cooled by the addition of pineapple and cotija, and finished with onion and avocado. And as for the cauliflower taco, peanuts are added for crunch along with cabbage, onion, and avocado.

One of the trucks latest pop ups was at Service Brewery for the brewery’s release party of their Old Guard beer. I was not lucky enough to taste their signature Strangbird chicken when I caught the truck at one of its latest stops, but everything I was able to try was stellar.

As I sat sipping my beer, I kept hearing other patrons rave about the Crispy Beet Taco that was available on their menu that night. Although I am a self-admitted beet basher, I figured it was worth a try.

A close up of the beet taco
I quickly jumped up and order some tacos. Because the price was so reasonable, two tacos for twelve bucks, I figured even if I did not love the beet version I would not be out much.

Well, it was a penny well spent. The vibrant purple beets that sat on top of the fresh corn tortilla were crunchy and roasted to the point of sweetness.

Sprinkled over the top were deep fried corn kernels, fennel, cilantro, and a smear of avocado. This was as balanced as a taco could ever be, crunchy, creamy, salty, and sweet.

My second taco choice was the Carnitas Taco, because I wanted to opt for a bit more tradition. Cotija and a sofrito adorned this little round treat. The non-traditional portion, the use of sliced rounds of carrots and a sauce that is dubbed “your mom sauce.”

For my side I was immediately drawn to Grilled Street Carrots, Strangebird’s take on street corn which is also known as Elote. Colorful rustic carrots are chargrilled until fork tender then served smothered in a white barbecue sauce and cotija cheese.

The overall effect is a treat that reminds you of an earthier version of the classically decadent dish.

I expect that a brand new menu will roll out at their next stop, which shouldn’t be too far into the future.

Original article can be found here

Authentic Upscale Italian hits Savannah: La Scala

Authentic Upscale Italian hits Savannah: La Scala

IF YOU’RE a local, you have probably noticed the magnificent pink Victorian that sits on East 36th Street by now. What looks like a grandiose home of Savannah’s elite is not that at all, instead housing Savannah’s newest upscale authentic Italian restaurant, La Scala Ristorante.

The bold duo behind the massive undertaking, Donald Lubowicki and Jeffrey Downey, have been a part of the food scene of Savannah for over a decade. So when the two located this particular empty home, the restoration of the historic space began.

What would prove to be quite a challenge was stalwartly conquered by the two who have now ran Circa 1875 for many years.

“Our love is food and libations. We were getting phone calls from people asking to take parties of 50, and we had no room there for that [at Circa 1875]. Right then and there, we outgrew the place. At that point we started looking for places around town and, three and a half years ago, this came on the market. We purchased it and the rest is history,” Lubowicki’s remembered on La Scala’s beginnings.

During my visit, I was given a tour of the immaculate three story Victorian, which emanates that Savannah feel from the very foundation. Lubowicki proudly guided me through each room, narrating the work that it years of research and preparation to accomplish.

I could have stayed for hours learning about all of the zeal that was placed in picking every single adornment by Lubowicki and Downey. Nothing was forgotten—even the powder rooms are orante.

When you walk in, the towering staircase, reminiscent of the old home’s vertebrae, strikes you. Each room has a speckling of dressed tables, antiques, imported European fixtures, and almost all have mantles. As you pass under each archway, you are transported to a different region in Europe. Even the downstairs bar, which I would consider the most important part of any restaurant, was made just for La Scala.

Besides the cool, cave-like wine cellar that sits below the grand space, the most breathtaking room of all is the chapel on the second floor—a vestige from the Catholic Diocese that once inhabited the home. The space is rentable and would make for an intimate wedding venue.

Executive Chef David Landrigan is from New York and has been working in kitchens since the age of thirteen. After gaining experience from various northern kitchens, Chef Landrigan completed culinary school at The Culinary Insitute of America. After moving to Savannah, Chef Landrigan worked with The Olde Pink House before joining the Circa 1875 family.

When the team behind Circa decided to open its second endeavor, Chef Landrigan’s right hand man and now La Scala’s Chef de Cuisine, Chef Stephen McLain, joined the team.

Chef McLain worked as the Executive Chef at Alligator Soul, a Sous Chef at Leoci’s, and many other local well-known Savannah kitchens. He was quick to inform me that he owes all of his culinary education to his grandmother, who owned several restaurants south of Nashville.

“We always try to do a seasonal menu. With the seasonal menu approach of this restaurant, we are trying to focus on regions of Italy. On the autumn, winter menu we have been focusing on the northern regions, coming into the spring we are going to focusing more on the central regions like Tuscany and Emelia-Romagna. Summertime will be a lot more Calabrian, Sicilian, Southern Italian.”

The ingredients are procured from local sources including Russo’s, Vertu Farms, Savannah River Farms, Joseph Field Farms, Ed Fields Coffee, Kachina Farms, and Canewater Farms. Lubowicki elaborated that their “pasta is also sourced locally, from Frali. We are really trying to tie into the community.”

A quick glance at the menu and you can see that every single locally procured ingredient was calculated in its application and expertly used.

Fettuccine Fruitti di Mare includes a beautiful, night-sky-black squid ink fettuccine pasta layered diver scallop, Georgia shrimps, Little Neck clams, and octopus. Each piece of seafood your fork finds is more tender than the last. The scallop is hard seared to create a crunchy shell, yet the inside is sweet and delicate. My favorite shrimp are our coastal shrimp because their meat is sweeter than most, and these did not disappoint.

The Branzino Arrostito is one of La Scala’s more popular dishes. A hearty roasted sea bass is served with artichoke, risotto peppered with fresh herbs, charred broccolini, and lemon.

Just as popular with loyal patrons is the Osso Bucco, a true Italian classic of roasted veal shank. The Chefs serve their version featuring roasted squash and cippolinis, a type of onions, risotto milanese, and gremolata.

Lubowicki was quick to tell me about the Pollo Mattone, saying “the roasted chicken will blow your mind.” Not only is the chicken extremely juicy but it is well balanced through all of its accompaniments. Sweet figs, briny olives, peppery arugula, and creamy polenta are paired with this superstar.

As for the preparation, Chef McLain explained that they “beer brine it overnight. The beer brine has oranges, coriander, bay leaf, and some cinnamon sticks. You get a lot of those spices’ notes inside of the chicken as well as all of the maltyness of the beer. The cooking technique is really simple—it is an old Tuscan cooking technique. We put it on the grill and put a brick on top of it. It flattens it out as it is grilling and gets the skin really crisp.”

The Chefs are even making their own desserts. Chef McLain gave me the rundown on the dessert menu.

He said, “Right now we are making all of our desserts in-house except for our sorbets. We make tiramisu, panacaot, a really nice Meyer lemon cheesecake, chocolate torts, and biscotti.”

The building may be the gorgeous Victorian architecture that you probably pass every day, but inside of La Scala, you are transported to a villa in the hills of the Italian countryside with a dish in front of you that would make any Nonna exclaim, “Bellisimo!”

Original article can be found here

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