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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The Grey Market

The Grey Market

IT WAS only last month that Netflix announced that its award-winning documentary series Chef’s Table would feature local Savannahian and prized chef Mashama Bailey and her business partner John O. Morisano.

The episode, premiering next year, is set to tell the story of how the two created the Savannah’s The Grey, and how Chef Bailey is the first African American woman nominated for and a finalist in the runnings for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.

Chef Bailey ventured all the way down to Savannah from New York after connecting with Morisano, the brain behind the revamp of the old Greyhound bus station that now holds The Grey.

It goes without saying that The Grey and the team behind The Grey have helped put Savannah on the culinary map—finally! Chef Bailey showcases local ingredients and culture while bringing in inspiration from global influences.

The Grey houses two seating areas, each with their own menu, yet both offering patrons one of those dining experiences that you don’t forget.

Morisano is also from New York, so the idea to bring Savannah a third concept from The Grey team originated as he sat at a lunch counter in his home state.

“I went to a place in Washington Heights, a Dominican lunch spot, and I was like Savannah needs something like this,” he told me as we chatted at a high-top in his bustling new store front.

After visiting the one-of-a-kind new location, I couldn’t agree more that Savannah had a hole that is now filled by The Grey Market.

The concept of The Grey Market is simple—part store with high quality food related products and part restaurant with a food counter where you can perch and eat your lunch. Morisano explained the concept to me perfectly:

“Everything about this is a little familiar to Mashama and me, sort of like the bustling lunch counter with people almost throwing food at you.”

As for the bodega side, the thought was to aid those that work downtown and may need to stop into a store to grab one or two items.

You can also forgo stopping in to grab one or two items you forgot to pick up for dinner, and grab an entire precooked dinner created by The Grey. The market offers grab-and-go dinners (for an extremely reasonable price might I add) that usually features a meat, two sides, and bread.

“We tried it on the first night and it sold out immediately,” Morisano said, referencing the popularity of the family meals. Some of the items Morisano and Chef Bailey are considering featuring with the take-away meals include baked pasta, pork tenderloin, whole roasted fish, meatloaf, ribs, and fried chicken.

“All of the products that are in the market we [the Grey’s team] use. When we were talking about dry pasta, there was only one dry pasta in [his] grandmother’s Italian kitchen. Everything is picked that way,” Morisano explained describing the process of selecting products available for sale in the market.

Modeled after a true New York food hall counter, the menu is divided into breakfast, after 11 a.m., 4 p.m. to close, and all day items. You will also find baked goods and fountain sodas.

Also, the bagels are a big deal. “They are straight up New York bagels. Our baker is from New York, from the same borough of New York City I grew up in,” Morisano told me. I asked Morisano about why they chose New York style bagels over the rest.

He said, “in a way we don’t have a choice, we are all New Yorkers and do not know any other kind of bagel.”

Keeping true to The Grey’s northern roots, lox is offered alongside the bagels that are baked fresh daily. Chef Bailey’s version of lox is beet cured and served alongside cream cheese, red onion, and watercress.

Every single baked good, available in the store and both restaurants, is baked in-house on the top floor of the new marketplace.

I was told by Morisano that their NYC, a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, is another menu item that is 100 percent authentic to the big city. A true NYC bacon egg and cheese is served on a kaiser roll, and not a bagel or toast like so many southern versions.

“One of the thing Mashama and I knew had to be on the menu was a New York bacon egg and cheese,” said Morisano after I mistakenly asked if their version was served on a bagel. He told me you can get the sandwich on a bagel, but the true New York way is on a kaiser.

The Sizzlin’ Smoky Pig is a sandwich, on the All Day side of the menu, based on one of the original menu items served at The Grey, the Sizzlin’ Smokey Pig. It was pork served sizzling in a cast iron skillet with a cracked egg on the top. The new version features smoked pig, pepper relish, and a fried egg all served on a kaiser roll.

I asked Morisano what he personally picked to feature on the menu:

“I was interested in seeing how Mashama could take some of the things we cooked over at The Grey and use that as inspiration for doing things here…I was really interested in connecting the DNA of The Grey with The Grey Market.”

The Grey Market has a list of approximately thirty wines that was curated by the wine and beverage director Caleb. Per Morisano, “there are more fun and big wines here, we are not limiting ourselves to the old world wines like The Grey.”

So far The Market has hosted a few impromptu wine tastings, and plan on hosting more at the standing counter.

Original article is Here.

The Black Rabbit

The Black Rabbit

If you have lived in Savannah for any time at all, it is likely you have noticed the unique black rabbit art painted on the metal door of a building that sits on Barnard Street.

Time and time again I have driven by that very spot and wondered, “What could be behind those rolling doors and who is responsible for the artwork?”

Well, my questions were answered in September. As a food lover, I could not have been more excited with the news that The Black Rabbit bar and restaurant opened its doors—big metal garage doors—to the public.

The surrounding district has gained another unique and approachable joint whose aim is to cater to locals. The responsible parties are partners David Hutchison and Patrick Zimmerman.

The story began about fifteen years ago when a friend of Hutchison spotted the building that now holds The Black Rabbit, which was originally a two-stall store front.

“The building literally had been a salon, a cobbler, a hotdog stand, a record store, and there was a vintage picker,” Hutchison explained as I waited for several sandwiches to come out of the kitchen.

Hutchison’s family purchased the building, and he quickly opened a gallery and intended on filling the second side of the building with a coffee shop. After several years of sitting unused, Hutchison began looking for a business partner to start building their local spot, and that’s where Patrick Zimmerman came into the mix.

The building received its name as The Black Rabbit over ten years ago, when Hutchison commissioned Miguel, a traveling artist from Texas, to paint the black rabbit on the door of the building.

As for business partner Patrick Zimmerman, he is no stranger to the local food scene. He has worked behind the scenes at both Betty Bombers and Butterhead Greens Cafe. So as you can imagine, the sandwiches he is currently putting out are nothing short of delectable.

“We wanted to keep [the menu] pretty straightforward,” Zimmerman said in explaining his thoughts behind creating the new menu. “I was going for kinda comfort food but also stuff people would like, even vegetarians.”

Let’s start at the very top of the list—the Smoked Turkey sandwich. Perfectly toasted sourdough bread that is perfectly buttery but not greasy encases paper thin slices of salty smoked turkey, melted havarti cheese, and Zimmerman’s Asian inspired pepper jelly.

This sandwich is destined to be a local favorite, simply because I know just how much Savannahians love pepper jelly. The twist on this sandwich is Zimmerman’s recipe for pepper jelly. Taking inspiration from Asian cuisine, his sauce is more balanced than classic pepper jelly.

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Each type of pork on the Three Piggies contributes its own flavor profile to the sandwich, while working in harmony, creating one of the juiciest deli sandwiches I have ever tasted.

“We have a little fun, like the Three Piggies with Spam, pit ham, and sliced pork shoulder, which you do not see very often,” Zimmerman told me.

I understand that using juicy as an descriptor to explain a cold cut sandwich is odd, but the juices of the pork actually ran down my hand as I chomped down. Although included, this cold stack does not need mayonnaise to lubricate any dryness that usually comes from fresh bread.

To balance the sandwich, fresh thinly sliced onions are layered with a thick cut of tomato and crisp lettuce. The cherry on top is the extremely soft bolero bread that encases the entire thing. Gottlieb’s Bakery is responsible for all of the bread used at the The Black Rabbit.

For a side with your sandwich, I would opt for the in-house pickled vegetables, which come as spicy or regular.

“Radishes, green beans, turnips, carrots, onions, and garlic,” are cooked “real straight forward with sugar, salt, vinegar, peppercorns, water, and bay leaf. I add jalapeños for the spicy one,” Zimmerman explained when I asked how he makes his pickled vegetables.

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More on the Southern side is the cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. It is just like the bowl of garden fresh onions and tomatoes you will find included on the dinner table during many Southern meals. The idea behind this side was to offer something lighter to complement the hearty sandwiches.

Finally, the German Potato Salad is available as a side. For his version, Zimmerman cooks the onions tossed with the tender potatoes in bacon fat, which results in an additional layer of flavor.
The Black Rabbit also offers dessert—King of Pops popsicles or a big slice of cheesecake from Fork & Dagger.

As for what readers, especially locals, are probably wondering the most about, the specialty cocktail menu is concise and to the point. You will find one cocktail for each type of liquor and nothing more.

No matter what your preference you will surely be satisfied with the preparation for that type of liquor. Even more so, you will be especially satisfied after reading the price of all of the house created and made cocktails.

Being a fan of bourbon, I opted for the Grandpa’s Kisses, a title that makes perfect sense after reading the ingredient list. Both bourbon and scotch are blended with apple brandy, honey, and bitters. Served in a crystal old fashioned glass, the profile of the dark liquors are prominent yet rounded out by the addition of sweet apple and aromatic bitters.

Zimmerman and Hutchison were kind enough to let me try the Room 225, a gin cocktail that is made silky by the use of sunflower seed orgeat, a nut milk.

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The cocktail is shaken with lemon juice and a few dashes of bitters before being poured into a coupe and adorned with lemon rind. It is fragrant and subtly flavored, a cocktail that would tempt you into drinking it all night.

Next year, patrons will have the opportunity to grab lunch at The Black Rabbit when Hutchison and Zimmerman expand their hours to become reachable to the entire neighborhood.

Original article is here.

 

Smith Brothers Butcher Shop’s Supper Club

Smith Brothers Butcher Shop’s Supper Club

The ultimate way for a restaurant or store to showcase its skill and imagination is by hosting a supper club, a temporary pop-up restaurant with a specialty menu. A recent new kid on the block of Savannah’s thriving trend of pop-ups is the beloved local Smith Brothers Butcher Shop.

The idea behind their supper club is to not only allow Chef April Spain to experiment and showcase newly inspired dishes but to also feature food from Smith Brothers’ popular suppliers.

I was lucky enough to attend Smith Brothers’ second supper club, which featured Grassroots Farms pork and produce from Canewater Farms. Chef Spain created and prepared the four course meal, which also featured wine pairings with a theme of rosé.

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To start the evening, the supper club hosted a cocktail hour filled with various hors d’oeuvres and a paired rosé. The rosé, paired by Matt Roseman with Ultimate Distributing, was Rosé All Day—a sparkling rosé that you could literally drink all day.

The wine “comes from the south of France and is a wonderful way to start the day,” Matt explained to the group. I agree completely.

A big beautiful wood cutting board was covered in various cheeses, all of which can be found at Smith Brothers, and of course a selection of various crackers sat next to the plate.

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Thick cut Beetroot Cured Salmon was artfully arranged on the table. Unlike most smoked salmon, this was served in thick slices which lended a heartier feel to the delicate fish.

Overall, the smoke was as subtle as the texture of the tender salmon, and the fish itself was lightly sweet.

Paying homage to the popular hors d’oeuvre bruschett was Smith Brothers’ rendition of tangy goat cheese smeared over toasted bread rounds with a topping of candy-like roasted red grapes — an upscale version more suiting for its counterpart of pink wine.

Also among the accoutremonts were Grassroot Farm Fried Pork Belly Skins, basically a pork rind on steroids. The fried pork was served simply with a dusting of salt and pepper.

It’s an appetizer that would have been easy to eat in excess, like when you open a bag of potato chips and cannot stop.

IMG_8463My favorite of the snacks were the Canewater Farms’ Fried Padron Peppers, which upon the first bite tasted like okra —and us Southerners love our okra. The savory little waxy peppers were tender and with a deep roasted flavor, a heavy dose of flaked salt sprinkled on the outside hit your mouth with a tiny jolt. I found myself going back for more and more because they were so poppable.

The first course, a smoked fig salad with Canewater Farms candied peppers and fresh watermelon atop a manchego cheese crisp was like nothing I have ever tasted. The figs had a whisper of smoky flavor, just enough to cut through the sweetness. The manchego crisp gave the dish a deeply nutty profile, and the watermelon freshened everything up.

This was a first course that I could eat again and again. The pairing, Brotte Rosé Cotes de Rhone, was the perfect accompaniment to complement the sweetness of the fig and watermelon, “Rome valley is where this rosé comes from…and is a blend of Grenache and Syrah,” Matt told the table before we devoured the first pairing.

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Smith Brothers owners Robert and Brenda Anderson were present and welcomed everyone as the meal started. Robert introduced Canewater Farms’ co-owner Rafe Rivers who explained that they “farm about twenty acres of vegetables over in Darien, Georgia. We are certified organic and we grow vegetables for about 50 restaurants.”

The second course, a play on surf and turf, was a perfect summer dish for any dinner party. Grassroots Farm pork belly and pan seared sea scallops were presented atop a bed of vibrant summer sweet corn puree.

The corn reminded me of the creamed corn that many Southern mothers make, creamed not by the addition of cream but by scraping the husks to extract the corn’s natural milk. The scallops were prepared the way every local loves them — crusted with a tender center — and the pork belly was rendered ideally.

For the third and main event, a massive slab of slowly roasted pork loin supplied by Grassroots was presented with velvety polenta from Canewater, grilled peaches, and basil butter. Chef Spain, in a way that I am certain was magic, rendered the fat and skin of the pork in a masterful way creating the crunchiest crust while maintaining a succulent fork-tender center.

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The polenta was most surprising, and had a flavor similar to that of peach pie from the addition of vibrant summer stone fruit. The rosé, Le Rocher Des Violettes Rosé, accompanying the pork was much darker than the rest due to ratio of red wine used in the blend, ideal to stand up to an exuberant main course such as luscious swine.

Though I am certain no one at the table saved room to eat dessert, hesitation was quickly relinquished after everyone tasted how delicious the “stuffed french toast” was. Two slices of buttery lemon pound cake were prepared using the method you would apply to french toast, and stuffed with blackberry compote and rose macerated cherries. Plopped on top, a semi-savory herbed cream, Chef Spain’s way to cut through the classically bold cake.

The pairing of port, made from a rose to with the theme, was just as spectacular as the final course itself. Matt explained he picked a port from Portugal, Quinta Do Tedo Rosé Port, that is made from “red wine grapes fortified with brandy, and aged for only six months.”

I plan on returning for as many of these suppers as I can, and if you would like to join me at one of their future supper clubs, Smith Brother’s emails the details with their mailing list.

Original article is here.