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

Advertisements

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 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

Leoci’s is back in Savannah: Leoci’s Mercato Italiano

Leoci’s is back in Savannah: Leoci’s Mercato Italiano

There’s something about Savannah that keeps people coming back. Whether a multi-visit tourist, a student that comes back here to live after being away at college, or a soldier looking forward to their station at Hunter Army Airfield, the charm of Savannah seems to get a grip on folks from all walks of life.

Luckily for Savannah, there’s a name among those come-backers that you may recognize, and he’s brought back with him his incredible and locally famous Italian cuisine—Roberto Leoci.

If you’ve lived in Savannah for any length of time, the likelihood of you having eaten Chef Leoci’s food or seeing his sauces in the local Whole Foods on Victory Drive is pretty high.

Upon closing up Leoci’s Trattoria in 2016, Leoci wanted to do a bit of traveling. After going from New York to the Carribean and everywhere in between, Chef Leoci decided to come back to Savannah and open up a new restaurant—Leoci’s Mercato Italiano.

My very first question to Chef Leoci is—why come back? I should have been able to guess his response: Family is a huge part of Italian culture. As he held his son he smiled and said, “I came back to Savannah for my son Nico. It is my first child, and I was very excited and wanted to be part of his life.”

Be not confused, Leoci’s may have a new name and a new location, but much of the same food you knew and loved at Leoci’s Trattoria is reflected in some way on the new menu at Leoci’s Mercato Italiano.

Leoci told me that “the menu is very similar. Every Chef evolves and gets better and better. If you do it year after year, you get better and better. There are classic dishes I have been doing and they are more refined.”

Although the new menu is similar, yet refined, the new name Leoci’s Mercato Italiano is not. As you probably guessed, the Italian translation of mercato is market, and the new restaurant features just that.1X4A0218In the dining room you will find an entire wall filled with Leoci’s handmade and unique items to take home. Strawberry rhubarb jam and peach jalapeño jam are just a few of the unique creations stacked for sale.

Keeping with the theme of the neighborhood Italian market, Chef Leoci told me that the ingredients are sourced from the areas surrounding where we live, “Hunter Cattle, Vincent Baker Farms, Southern Swiss Dairy, and some stuff I go to the market and get.”

The dinner menu features almost any type of pasta you can imagine, yet every pasta dish is created with a bit of flare. You cannot go into Leoci’s Mercato Italiano and expect to simply see spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna. (But if that’s your thing, Leoci has you covered too.)

Almost every single pasta available is created by hand. Leoci explained the process:
“We have an extruder from Italy, and we extrude all of our pastas. The only pasta we do not do is the angel hair pasta. It is fun because you get to do any flavor you want.”

To me, this is what makes Italian food legitimate—if they make their own pasta, and the pasta is good, the dishes are going to be much more authentic, and “authentic” is a great word to describe these pasta dishes. Keeping with tradition, the recipe for the Italian restaurant’s pasta uses semolina flour unlike many versions which use all purpose flour.

The final result is a pasta that is slightly chewier, which is ideal to stand up to a coating of hearty sauce.“It is more al dente than people expect because semolina is a harder grain,” Chef Leoci told me.

If you cannot find something new on the menu or have already tried it all, I suggest going for a daily special. “My specials that I do are dishes that I work with my peers [to create] or [other] Chefs that I look up to. Some of the dishes are my take on what I learned from them.”

There were two pastas on the specials menu when I stopped in for lunch. A salmon orecchiette paired with a cream sauce and spinach, and pasta tossed in a red sauce and jammed with green beans and Hunter Cattle sausage.

I also asked Chef Leoci how he uses the beautiful giant red woodfire oven sitting in view from the dining room, his response was “there are only three pizzas on the menu because I use the woodfire oven for everything else.”1X4A0230The Brick Oven Olives and the beets in the Burrata Salad are just some of the items you will find on the menu that are charred in the woodfire oven.

During my visit, I tried the Margherita Pizza, a traditional Italian pizza made simply with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. The crust was chewy on the outside yet tender inside, with a heavy char from its bake in the woodfire oven.

A huge amount of sweetness was lended to the dish from the tomatoes. As you bite into a slice the fresh torn basil cut through the richness of the cheese.

The Quattro Formaggi is a white pizza that is served with creamy mozzarella, nutty parmesan, tangy Gorgonzola, and delicate ricotta cheese over the top.

Finally, the last pizza on the menu is the Arugula e Prosciutto. Leoci’s version is created using a tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, arugula, and sweet and salty prosciutto di parma.

Much like the rest of the menu, the dessert menu features traditional Italian desserts like cannoli and tiramisu but you can also find something like Leoci’s sinfully delicious chocolate layered cake.

So, if you’re in the Southside area and wanting some traditional, authentic Italian food, don’t forget about Leoci’s new spot in Twelve Oaks Shopping Center. The address may be on Abercorn Street, but when you walk in the doors, be prepared to be transported by the love and aroma to a quaint Italian kitchen in Sicily.

Original article can be found here.

 

Savannah gets its own Cat Café: Pounce

Savannah gets its own Cat Café: Pounce

Many people identify themselves as either a dog person or a cat person. It can be said that some even base a large portion of their identity around their love for a certain pet. It’s also said that the personalities of the owners mirror their choice of furry companion.

I too am guilty of this silly correlation, but regardless of your choice in domesticated pets, there is a new shop in town that appeals to any patron who happens to love animals (and a splendid cup o’ joe).

Pounce Cat Cafe opened the doors to its Broughton Street location at the end of 2018, and, though the idea of having feline accompaniments inside of the establishment is fun and whimsical, the brews and pastries insideOwners Ashley Brooks and Annaliese Hughes opened the first location in Charleston, S.C., in 2016. As a quick success, they decided to expand to a second Lowcountry town, Savannah.

I ask Brooks why the pair decided to expand to Savannah, and she explains that they “wanted to open in Savannah because not only is it Charleston’s sister city, but we have visited for years and love the city. We had so much success finding cats homes in Charleston, and Savannah seemed like the purrfect place to expand!”

So what is a cat cafe exactly? Simple: It’s half cafe and half temporary home for adoptable adorable kitties. Don’t worry, the cats are kept separate from the food by a wall and several doors as to keep the health department happy, but the café itself is free-roam for the lovable lap ornaments.

Patrons can stop by to enjoy pastries, coffee, or an adult beverage then step into the other side of the store to hang out with some cool cats.

1X4A0050

Pounce Cat Cafe paired up with the Humane Society for Greater Savannah to provide short-term housing for some of the Humane Society’s adoptable cats. Patrons are welcome to hang out with the cats and take one home, after an easy adoption process.

The overall goal of Pounce Cat Cafe is to provide a cat its forever home while also allowing patrons to add a precious and beloved member to their own families.

As you can imagine, the cats are being adopted pretty quickly. “We typically have around 20 cats at the cafe and they are all up for adoption through the Humane Society for Greater Savannah,” says Brooks.

“So far we’ve been open since October and have already had 77 cats adopted! The employees definitely get attached — and sometimes end up adopting — but it’s so rewarding getting the chance to find all of the cats forever homes that it makes it all worth it to say goodbye,” Brooks tells me.

Of the twenty or so felines housed at the cafe, I am certain there is a cat that would suit every personality or desire. Some young, some old, some shy, and some curious.

In the first few seconds of me stepping into the designated play room to take some pictures of the cats, I was bombarded by several purr-ageous kittens. To be expected, several were a bit more hesitant to approach and some hid under a sofa, which, if you’ve ever been around cats, you know is to be expected.

I will warn you: Guests cannot stop in solely to hang out with cats. There is a very small fee, used only for good, to spend time with the kitties. are anything but a joke.

Brooks explains the process: “When you come in to hang out with the cats, it’s $15 for an hour in the cat lounge and a complimentary beverage, including wine and beer We tried to pick wines that most people would enjoy.”

The wine lists includes two house reds, a cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, two house whites, a pinot grigio and chardonnay, and two house bubbles, a champagne and sparkling rose.

As for beer, you will find everything from an oatmeal stout to an American India Pale Ale, which should keep your boyfriend or husband content during the hour visit.

Finally, the drink menu includes tea, coffee, and soda. Riptide Coffee Company provides the cold brew coffee available and Savannah Coffee Roasters is featured for a hot drip coffee.

The tea list includes a peppermint tea, chai tea, english breakfast tea, and green tea. Pounce Cat cafe even remembered us Southerners, and has sweet tea for those that do not drink their tea hot.

As for the food, it is all baked by local French bakers at La Gourmet Cafe. “The pastry selection does not rotate and we worked with Le Cafe Gourmet to pick the selection. They special bake cat ‘meowcarons’ for us to have at the cafe and they’re definitely our most popular pastry,” Brooks says.

1X4A0042
The mewocarons come in two flavors, lemon and white chocolate elderflower. Le Gourmet adornes their textbook French macarons with cute little cat faces, making them meowcarons. Inside each tender macaron shell you will find a sweet gooey filling.

The rest of the menu includes chocolate croissants, plain croissants, cinnamon rolls, and blueberry muffins. All of which are delivered freshly baked by Le Gourment.

For now Pounce Cat Cafe is not hosting any events like their sister store in Charleston currently does. According to Brooks that may soon change: “We plan to start having cat yoga and wine tastings in Savannah soon so be on the lookout!” she says.

I had so much fun playing with the cats in my short visit there, I can imagine cat yoga will be extremely entertaining.

With enough time, the brand is even considering to brand spreading it’s do-gooding to a third location.

If you truly consider yourself to be a dog person, and hanging out with cats is not really your thing, you can always donate to Pounce Cat Cafe to help care for their fostered felines.

Original article can be found here.

 

A Review of Savannah’s Newest Teahouse: La Petite Abeilles

A Review of Savannah’s Newest Teahouse: La Petite Abeilles

Hospitality is one of the major qualities that defines being Southern. For many of us, anytime we host a guest we immediately offer them a glass of iced tea or some warm food. The same applies when we are guests in our another Southerner’s abode.

When I heard about the concept of a new tea house in Savannah, La Petite Abeilles, I thought the restaurant would be nothing short of a perfect fit in our town.

Chef and Owner Mia Guerin opened the doors to her home and La Petite Abeilles only a few short weeks ago. The Teahouse and restaurant sits within the walls of a classic and beautiful historic Victorian home on Barnard Street.

Guerin is doing the Southern thing and offering her guests the opportunity to sit on her wraparound porch and drink some tea. She relocated to Savannah from San Diego because her daughter began studying at SCAD. Before her short-lived move to San Diego, Guerin operated Miss Guerin’s Tea House and a full size bakery in Mesa, Arizona.

As for the name, Guerin explains why coming up with that was the easy part:“My dad is French. Growing up there were three daughters, and my dad used to sing that to us, La Petite Abeilles — the little bees. It is actually spelled incorrectly…but my dad used to sing the La, so it is personal.”

The menu of La Petite Abeilles pays homage to parts of Guerin’s menu at Miss Guerin’s Tea House while incorporating new creations as well.

Guerin explains how she approached creating her new menu as college English major: “Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, so you will see there is Jane Austen characters within the menu. Everybody who is not from Jane Austen is either one of my kids or one of my nieces or nephews.”

As Guerin puts it, almost every single item available is made in house. She says “there are very few cans, tomatoes and beans I think we have in cans.”

To properly execute each dish, Guerin hired two Chefs that just graduated from The Virginia College, Tyler and Maddie. Every single baked good used by the restaurant is baked in their kitchen, even the sliced bread.

I asked Guerin where she sourced some of her local ingredients and her response doesn’t disappoint: “We use all fresh herbs, and I grow those here. From the rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and pretty much everything. Tyler will walkout with a pair of sissies to clip the rosemary for his rosemary bread”.

1X4A01044

My husband and I went to try the brunch menu. He spotted the Grand Mariner Stuffed French Toast and could not resist. The menu offers more than just brunch or tea—lunch is available as well.

Four thick-cut triangles of toast are dunked in an egg wash before being seared to a golden brown, artfully arranged on a delicate plate, and finished with strawberries and a citrusy Grand Marnier infused cream.

The finished flavor is that of a classic French toast with grown-up kick of orange liqueur. On the side comes crispy fried bacon, the ideal kick of savory, salty seasoning to balance the overall sweetness of the dish.

1X4A0102

I ordered the Emma’s Breakfast, a plate of vegetable-jammed crustless quiche, rosemary roasted potatoes, and a warm scone. The vegetable to egg ratio in the quiche was mind-boggling, as it takes a skilled chef to be able to fill a quiche with so many items yet be able to keep the eggs from falling apart once baked. And although brimming with fresh vegetables, the eggs remained perfectly cooked and delicate.

As for what patrons have ordered the most, “quiche has been the number one thing, and it was the number one thing from before. It has three different types of cheese in it and it is veggie,” Guerin tells me.

Sarah’s Belgian Waffle was my husband’s second choice breakfast, and we decided to go for it too. For this creation you get a plate-sized airy waffle topped with your pick of candied pecans and maple syrup or a berry sauce and whipped cream.

1X4A0092

He opted for the candied pecan version, due partially because of the Southern in him, and it did not disappoint. The sprinkling of crunchy roasted pecans added the right amount to texture to the weightless waffle.

To partake in one of La Petite’s Afternoon Tea Luncheons, you must make a reservation in advance. There are seven available options in meals to devour with your tea. The tricky part is deciding the tea to drink, because La Petite offers over fifty different varieties of tea.

Guerin hand-selected the various tea options through her worldly travels. “I really was fortunate that I got to go to Africa and all these places to got to tea farms and see how it is rolled, how it is made, how it smoked, how it is dried,” she explains as we sit in the ornate dining room of her Victorian.

High Tea Service is available from 4-6 p.m., by reservation only. The service is enough for two people and comes with a choice of two teas and various delectables; including scones, puff pastries, bruschetta, and a crostino.

The final trick up Guerin’s sleeve is her catering skills. La Petite has not limited itself to breakfast, lunch, and tea service, but also offer locals catering options.

And even if you are not catering a big party, this holiday season the store is opening up its baking services to fill any holiday baking goods.

In fact while I was there, I took home a mini pumpkin loaf painted with chocolate, an ideal treat for any holiday table.

Original article can be found here.

The New Menu at The Diplomat Luncheonette

The New Menu at The Diplomat Luncheonette

The Diplomat Luncheonette has rolled out new and extended hours. But when I popped in last week to get a boat-sized sandwich for a semi-late lunch, I was thrilled to also find a new menu, new prices, and a new face behind the change.

The prices are small and the sandwiches better than ever, but the biggest change of all is the man behind the menu, former chef at the now-closed Our Daily Bread and experienced baker, Joshua Holland.

I’m saddened to see a Savannah staple close its doors, but as a foodie I’m excited to see a Savannah chef continue on with his work. What can be better than two of this town’s powerhouse sandwich shops combining forces?

My first question to Chef Holland is how he approached creating this new and improved menu for The Diplomat, Chef Holland tells me, “The current menu is a lot of what we were doing at Our Daily Bread Cafe and what The Diplomat was doing but with a more fun approach and some things that everyone can relate to.”1X4A9786Because Chef Holland is creating all of the baked goods for The Diplomat Lunchonette, they alone shine as some of the best things offered on the menu and for good reason.
Chef Holland tells me, “The baked goods we are doing here are mostly the favorites I was doing at Daily Bread, and some things we just come up with on the fly.”

The bread that encloses each sandwich is so expertly executed, it almost becomes the star of each of the walk-up’s creations.

Three varieties of Bahn Mi sit on the large menu board at home on the Luncheonette’s wall, pork, beet, and avocado. For those who have never experienced the joy of eating a bahn mi sandwich, bahn mi is a Vietnamese street food with a bit of French influence. The sandwich, that originated in Saigon, traditionally comes with pork, pickled vegetables, and cilantro all encased in a baguette.

I opted for the traditional pork version available on the Diplomat’s menu, and was not disappointed. I have sampled my fair share of traditional bahn mis and can spot a bad one from a mile away.

If you close your eyes while eating the Diplomat’s Pork Bahn Mi you can almost imagine yourself walking through a street market in Asia. Their pork version is the most traditional of the three available options.

Tender roasted pork lay underneath a bed of crispy pickled vegetables, green and spicy jalapeños and citrusy cilantro, the blanket is a cool yet fiery sriracha mayonnaise. Enveloping it all is Chef Holland’s remarkable baguette featuring its great chew and crispy crust.

For both the avocado and beet version, the pork is substituted with your choice of roasted beet or creamy ripened avocado.

On the other side of the continent—or menu—you will find the Cuban sandwich. It too is true to the classic version of the sandwich and features all of the right ingredients. Two types of pig, smokey ham and juicy pork, work together to coat your palate with a succulent pork bomb. To balance the piggy pair, kosher pickles cut through the fat and bright yellow mustard adds a bite.1X4A9767Let’s talk sides. The Diplomat’s new prices includes a sandwich and small side or a half of a sandwich and large side for only ten bucks. If you are smart, you’ll order more than one side. Not because you need a larger portion, but once you see the list of sides they boast, you won’t be able to select only one.

 

 

You should start with the Mac n’Cheese because as Chef Holland puts it, “We can’t seem to make enough mac and cheese to keep with with the demand. It’s made from scratch and has been a popular item for us.”

Do not expect to get that weird gelatinous block of baked mac and cheese found on a few too many Southern tables. The Diplomat’s Mac n’Cheese is a lake of creamy sharp melted cheese surrounds al dente pasta.

Chef Holland adds a tiny sprinkle of fresh grated cheddar to the top, which upon looking at it seems like a simple little garnish, but turns out to be one of the best parts of the entire bowl of Mac n’Cheese. His use of fresh, unmelted, cheddar gives the side item a bit of texture and second dimension of cheese flavor.

I will let you decide for yourself whether the Cheesy Grits or Mac n’Cheese are the better side; it was a task too large for me to accomplish.
First of all, how often to find grits with cheese already cooked in them on a menu. Second, Chef Holland adds the same care in composing and finishing the dish as he does everything else. So, my conclusion is The Diplomat’s grits stand up to any other grits around town.1X4A9786The final side I tried was their soup of the day, a turkey tikka masala soup. The flavor so deep and layered, it tasted as though it took hours to cook.

 

As to be expected the turkey layered within the soup was fall off your fork tender and balanced out the large amount of spices used to create tikka masala.
The store’s new hours means a breakfast is on the menu, but the late night hours are still the same. After hearing about the items featured on the late night menu, I have found myself looking for a reason to stay out and catch it.

The item that stood out the most was the Pigs-In-Blankets, so I had to find out how Chef Holland makes them. He explains, “Pigs in a blanket is an item that I made for Pinkies a couple of years ago for an event they were doing. I decided to make it fun and put them in our house croissant instead of the traditional dough they are usually found in.”

On the late night menu you will also find their Quesadilla, Grilled Cheese On A Stick, Thai Beef Tacos, and Pork Dumplings. You have until 2 am on Saturday.

Original article can be found here.

A cake tasting with The Topiary Cake Design

A cake tasting with The Topiary Cake Design

While attending a specialty-coursed dinner at Cotton and Rye a few short weeks ago, I found myself sitting at a table with several foodie strangers.

As the night progressed and the alcohol flowed, those strangers quickly turned into acquaintances through our shared love of food and baking. We bantered back and forth, over food and about food, and the conversation quickly changed to baking as I learned more about my neighbor, Calley Sholder, the owner and baker of The Topiary Cake Design.

It was brought to my attention that the seating arrangement was intentional. Cotton and Rye’s Chef Zach Shultz and his girlfriend Caroline Bradley think highly of Sholder’s baking skills and arranged the meeting.

As an at-home baker of many years, I was quick to take the opportunity to write about a fellow baker since I know just how difficult it is to be successful in the oven.

Chef Shultz and Bradley were correct, The Topiary creates utterly delectable yet beautifully layered cakes — two qualities that are so often not found together when purchasing a cake for a special occasion.

It is extremely difficult to maintain the moistness of a layered cake without compromising its design, because the more moist the cake, the less sturdy the finish will be.

Sholder began her cake journey after moving down to Savannah from Rhode Island. She struggled for several months to find a job with any local bakeries, so Sholder did the brave thing and started her own.

1X4A0001

 

 

It was divine intervention that made Sholder take her first step, and as she put it “I finally got a catering job, but it made me realize that I wanted to focus strictly on specialty cakes. In 2018, the Topiary Cake Design was born.”

My favorite flavor of The Topiary was The Corn Field Cake. A cake that is completely original and nothing like a cake that I have tasted before. I enjoy seeing and tasting unique flavor combinations that bakers come up with, partially because it inspires my own baking.

The flavor combination and recipe is Sholder’s own creation. She proudly told me the story behind the cake: “In high school, I had my own cupcake business. My sister and I were experimenting with unique flavors. Because we were living in the south in Mobile Alabama, we thought why not do a cornbread inspired cake?,” she recalls.

“We wanted to make sure that the cake was not as coarse and dense. It still had to have that lightness that all cakes have…I would honestly say this is my specialty.”

A cornmeal and flour mixture is used to create the delicate cake that taste like a distant cousin to sweet Southern cornbread. In between each layer you will find tart raspberry compote and a hot (as in spicy) honey buttercream. The hot honey is created by cooking red peppers into the honey.

Although Sholder described the cake as rustic, while I was eating a slice, I have to disagree. The overall finish and flavor of the cake is a culinary dream, completely balanced without being oversweet. I would describe the cake as sophisticated yet southern.

Another fruity favorite is the Blackberry Chip, a super moist blackberry cake created with fresh seeded blackberries, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Each layer of vibrant violet cake is filled with silky smooth vanilla Italian buttercream.

1X4A0015

Sholder explained the origin of her unique layered treat: “My blackberry chip is a play on Black Raspberry Chip from Graeter’s Ice Cream in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a kid, I would always get their ice cream and that flavor was by far my favorite. I decided to use blackberries instead of black raspberry to put a slight twist on it.” Adding a slight twist to things seems to be The Topiary’s calling card.

All of the frosting slathered onto every cake is created using the same method. Sholderd told me, “I make Italian style buttercream which means you cook sugar and water on the stove to make syrup, then whip it into egg whites. Once it is cooled you add your butter. Even though this technique takes the longest amount of time, it is better than any other frosting you will taste…It is not overly sweet but so silky smooth!”

The Cookie Dough Cake is one that I am certain will appeal to everyone alike. Sholder browns butter before adding it to the cake batter, creating a brown butter cake. This takes a typical vanilla cake base to the next level by adding an extra note of taste, which is reminiscent of the deep butterscotch flavor found in the base of a chocolate chip cookie.

Sholder doesn’t stop there — she adds even more cookie flavor with a hearty layer of eggless cookie dough jammed in between each cake round. The final addition is her classic vanilla Italian buttercream.

The most modern flavor was The Creme Brûlée Cake. Soft white cake is seasoned with a wisp of fresh vanilla bean. The use of vanilla bean creates a more floral experience of vanilla flavor than just using extract alone.

Sticky homemade caramel is painted onto each cake before it is filled with airy vanilla bean buttercream. The moistness of this cake is created with the use of lots of sour cream and butter.

1X4A0034

Finally, the last cake slice I ate was The Chocolate Lover, my all time favorite traditional cake flavor. Like all of the cakes I tasted, this one was as moist as the last. Light layers of deeply flavored chocolate cake are layered with rich chocolate buttercream.

Although this cake is a take on a classic flavor, the overall finish was far from a classic chocolate celebration cake; this was moist and had the correct balance of chocolate.

The Topiary is not just limited to cakes, they also offer cake pops and plan on expanding to more desserts in the future. Sholder even mentioned the desire to expand into ice cream creation.

Original article can be found here.