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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why Rhett has become my favorite new Savannah restaurant

Why Rhett has become my favorite new Savannah restaurant

River Street has commonly been a place many locals avoid because of the saturation of tourists. And though most locals love what tourism brings to the community, they love their own local watering holes more. 

Many days it seems as though there are more new buildings popping up than tourists roaming the streets of the Historic District. So it never comes as a surprise to see a shiny new hotel joining the ranks among the others in town.

A true surprise is to find a delicious new restaurant nestled inside one of the many downtown vacation spots, especially one that sits near River Street and will quickly become a new favorite for many locals.

Rhett, on the lower floor of The Alida Hotel, opened its facing doors only a few short weeks ago. Although there has been no official press release, the word has been that many locals already adore the beautiful restaurant. 

Director of Restaurant and Bars Arthur Sertorio sat down to chat with me before my meal, and explained the menu: “It is a pretty simple menu, it does not have that much selection but we really focus on the quality of the ingredients. All of the ingredients we get we get them from local vendors, and we are pretty proud of that. On top of that we make everything from scratch.”

The House Made Ricotta is a dish I have not stopped speaking about since the day I visited. In fact, I went back a second time to eat it before this article ran. 

Upon your first bite you can taste the care that was placed into creating this dish. ”We make our ricotta from scratch. We press and we filter the cheese, we add some Georgia olive oil, and some za’atar spices to it,” Sertorio elaborated as we chatted. 

Creamy is an insufficient term to describe the texture of the delicate homemade cheese. The delicate cheese gives way to the fresh grain flavor of the bread, resulting in a bite that taste as though you are sitting on the porch of a farmhouse.

Just as gentle as the cheese is the addition of za’atar seasoning—the appropriate amount is used so it does not overwhelm the flavors of the cheese and bread.

Luckily for patrons, the ricotta is featured on the menu two ways—for breakfast and as a starter. You can try this amazing dish no matter the time of day, and for breakfast you can expect the addition of seasonal fruit preserves. 

The Fried Cauliflower is Rhett’s homage to the south’s love of fried food, by elevating the fried dish through balance of flavors. The dish almost does not taste fried, but we Southerners can spot any fried dish from a mile away.

Sertorio summed up the dish perfectly: “We wanted to add something that is a little more refined. We have a cauliflower puree on the bottom and we add a lot of zest of lemon to fight the fatness of the dish.” You will also find a showering of briny fried capers which gives you palate a jolt of salt with each bite. 

The final starter I devoured was Rhett’s take on macaroni and cheese, the Macaroni Gratin. As someone who has made and eaten a shipping container’s worth of the staple Southern side, I can state with confidence that Rhett’s version did not disappoint.

“We did a lighter version of it [macaroni and cheese]. The Monet cheese is like a bechamel sauce…we made it the french traditional way, super light, and we add flavor with the thyme bread crumbs on top,” Sertorio told me in explaining the starter. 

As for the pasta, which may be the best part of the plate, it is made in house without eggs. Which also helps reduce some of the decadence, resulting in a more balanced dish. 

My favorite part of the menu, besides the food, is the use of the term Supper to  describe the entrees available after 5 pm, it is a wonderful nod to the southern touches added to many of the dishes. 

For Supper I recommend you step out of your steak or fish comfort zone and try the Celery Root Dumpling. The menu describes the dish as “country captain” flavors, which actually means the dish includes a coconut curry butter, Fresno chilis, pistachios, apple, and fresh parsley.

The celery root inside of the dumpling, which is more southern than Asian, adds a nuttiness to the finished dish. And although there are a ton of ingredients, every single one has a place in the dish, working together as one but still distinguishable as an individual element. I would call this entree magical. 

The most Southern dish on the entire menu is the Roasted Pork, a large portion meat and three. Juicy herb crusted slices of roasted pork sit atop a Stone Mountain sized heap of roasted fingerling potatoes, fresh jalapeños, and tender fermented collard greens. A large sprinkling of boiled peanuts, a thick cut slab of bacon, and a beef sauce is used to finish the dish.

To ferment the collard greens featured in the entre, leftover whey from the process to make the ricotta is used. As for the sauce, Rhett attempts to waste very little and uses caramelized beef scraps to create the gravy. 

I have not forgotten about the most important part of any meal—the drink pairings. The wine list was created by Sertorio, and features a well rounded yet concise group of wines.

“We try to go on the origin of the grape, so if you are going for Pinot Grigio we usually try to get the Pinot Grigio from Italy,” Sertorio told me. 

A homage to Savannah, the Savannah Smash is the cocktail on their list that I will order time and time again. Bourbon, rainwater Madeira, lemon, peach shrub, and a large bundle of fresh mint are combined to create the cocktail. The hint of peach is just enough to cut through the throat-grabbing flavor of the bourbon.

Original article can be found here.

Toasted Barrel

Toasted Barrel

I can’t think of two more delicious items than cheese and bourbon. Everyone (save a few picky eaters) loves rich, decadent flavors that deliver the paradigm of what Southerners have been taught that good food is supposed to be.

Luckily for Savannah, Michelin Star-trained Chef Thomas Ciszak felt the same. Last weekend marked the beginning of his ideal whiskey/cheese mash-up with the opening of the low country’s newest casual dining bar and restaurant—Toasted Barrel. Toasted Barrel is the creation of delectable food maestro Chef Ciszak.

As Chef Ciszak put it, “Toasted Barrel is an ideal place to enjoy a cocktail or a light meal, featuring fresh, [and] delicious ingredients.”

The location is perfect for locals and visitors alike. The artfully decorated restaurant sits on the corner of Oglethorpe and Montgomery, within the SpringHill Suites and just a short stroll from the new Cultural Arts Center.

If you have not figured it out by now, “Toasted” refers to the long list of toasted sandwiches and dishes available on the menu, and “Barrel” represents the over forty available high-end bourbons.

The stand out cocktail for me was the Smoky Deal—a bacon-infused bourbon-based mixture. Head bartender Jordan Sox explained how the insanely unique infused dark liquor is created:
“We take bacon fat and we take Four Roses bourbon, we put them together and we freeze it.”

The mixture is, of course, strained before it is used, and the final flavor tastes like the most concentrated (and delicious) maple bacon essence you’ve ever tasted. Overall the finished cocktail tastes like a smokey sweet bourbon dessert.

The recommended sandwich pairing is the Bacon Schmelz—because one can never have too much bacon in their life.

One Hot Cucumber is the ideal cocktail to balance the richness of each gooey cheese sandwich. Citrus forward and piney Hendrick’s gin is combined with fresh lime and light coconut water for a smooth and easy-to-drink companion that pairs well with a lot of Toasted Barrel’s rich, savory sammies.

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The Monkey Barrel was created by Sox for the grand opening of Toasted Barrel. “It is a variation on a daiquiri, but with overproof Jamaican rum, Four Roses bourbon, creme de banana, and fresh lemon juice,” Sox explained as I sat at the bustling and beautifully adorned bar.

The reason for the addition of bourbon into a rum drink is due to Toasted Barrel’s focus on bourbon, but the additive is not anything but complementary to the base drink.

As the name would suggest, the grilled cheese selection is robust. I am confident in saying there is a toasted masterpiece perfect for any toasty dairy connoisseur.

Chef Ciszak selected Auspicious Bakery bread to adorn each one of his cheese filled artworks, and as anyone who knows grilled cheeses knows, the bread is extremely important.

Starting at the very top of the list, the Classic Cheese grilled cheese sandwich is just as bold as any of the unique combinations listed on the menu. Often times the simplest dishes are the most difficult to execute well, but The Toasted Barrel has simplicity figured out.

A river of melted cheddar cheese flows between slices of buttery grilled Auspicious toasts, and the robust serving of cheese inside is created by the use of double the amount of cheese of one of their other sandwiches. Simple yet well seasoned, this rendition is the quintessential toasted sandwich.

Fluffy scrambled eggs, sweet sausage, and sharp cheddar cheese make up the Breakfast Melt. Any good cook or chef knows just how difficult a good scrambled egg is to perfect, yet Chef Ciszak has done so. The succulent eggs add moisture to the spiced sausage and salty cheese.

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My favorite was the Toast “Monsieur,” a grilled cheese upgraded with salty sweet maple glazed ham, ultra savory gruyere cheese, and tangy grain mustard. The grain mustard serves to add texture and cut through the richness of the ham and cheese combination.

I saved the Crispy Goat for last because it could almost be dessert. Fork tender roasted beets come layered with sticky fig jam, tart balsamic, and velvety chèvre cheese. Any earthy flavor of the beets were cooked away with the roasting leaving behind a delicate root vegetable that held up well to the sweetness of the fig jam. Chef Ciszak’s use of balsamic vinegar rounded out all of the sugary notes, while the smooth chèvre cheese brought the entire dish home.

If you do not end up trying multiple sandwiches, a side item or two accompanies any main dish properly.

I grabbed multiple servings of Toasted Barrel’s Hand Cut Fries, and I do not know which tasted better, the fries themselves or the sriracha mayonnaise accompanying them. The Belgian style fries, cut thicker than most, are pillowy on the inside, crisp on the outside, and speckled with just the right amount of salt. The mayonnaise was not too spicy, instead working to coat the mouth with silky savory taste of sweet vinegary pepper.

When you find the Tater Tots listed on the menu of sides, do not be fooled into thinking you will be served modest rounds of white potato. Chef Ciszak created his own version using sweet potatoes and parmesan cheese. Tender, tiny pillows of silky sweet potato are fried until they have an outer shell of crunchy goodness. The petite crunchy clouds are then served with salty and nutty parmesan cheese to balance it all out.

Finally, because what is a grilled cheese without tomato soup to dunk it in, the restaurant offers their San Mariano Tomato Soup accompanied with five spice croutons as a side item.

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Like any succulent homemade tomato soup, their version is thick with seasoning and spices visibly floating about the savory soul warming concoction. The five spices on the crouton only deepen taste of the vivacious dish.

Original article is here.

 

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.

 

the Lone Wolf Lounge

the Lone Wolf Lounge

Although Savannah’s newest local watering hole, Lone Wolf Lounge, opened only a few short weeks ago, it has had no shortage of business.

Even before I stopped by the retro-tiki inspired lounge, I heard from several locals that the place was packed most nights.

This should not come as a surprise considering the owners, Tom Worley and Andrew Ripley, have years of experience working in the local service industry.

Worley began his eight-year local bartending career at the Bayou Cafe, and Ripley spent his time at the Sparetime, Cotton & Rye, and the Andaz. In addition to bartending, both owners have a background in playing music.

Being industry vets and seeing the ins-and-outs of running a bar caused the pair to begin discussing opening the bar several years before pulling the trigger on the Lincoln Street location.

As we sit at the bar chatting, Ripley tells me, “The idea was for us, although we worked with such great people around town, was to break free and do our own thing.”

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“We got it zoned first before we even signed the lease,” Worley explains, detailing the the history of the Lounge attaining its approval for use of the building as a bar.

The building was once the home of an insurance office, but now houses a local joint that transports you back in time when you walk through the doors.

“We liked this spot because it was kind of a time capsule. Joseph Muller was in this building in the ‘70s, and when he closed shop they locked the building with all of its stuff in it. It sat here for decades,” Ripley says.

He describes his vision for the bar’s ambiance:
“I wanted to have a Milwaukee neighborhood grandpa-style bar, just very comfortable. The other part of it you see in here is that Savannah is part of the Caribbean, originally it was part of the ports and the Caribbean economy. I wanted that feeling, when you come in here, that you are relaxed and on vacation.”

A beautiful U-shaped walnut wood bar sits in the middle of the room with a tower of high quality liquor sitting on the shelves behind it. The walls are covered in the original wood paneling along with some new palm leaf wallpaper and highly unique artwork.
Velvet curtains, leather, old lamps, and greenery are just some of the details incorporated into the space.

Ahron Mack, the builder of the Lone Wolf Lounge, constructed almost everything that can be found inside the joint. When he is not hammering away at the Lone Wolf Lounge, you can find Mack mixing drinks at Cotton and Rye.
When I ask about how they approached the menu, Ripley says, “I was trying to create a balanced menu that makes the best use of all of the stuff we have here.”

“Not everything we carry is like a magazine ad; we have really good stuff that you can get at a good price,” Ripley tells me.

I found the affordability interesting considering so many of the items used to mix their drinks are created by hand in-house, such as their grenadine, their tinctures, and their blends.

I was instantly drawn to The Glamorous Life because when seeking out tiki drink I feel that you cannot beat a straightforward, well-composed, classic daiquiri. The perfect version of this cocktail does not require a ton of frill or mixers, just a thoughtfully crafted mix. The Glamorous Life is just that, mixed properly to create a balanced drink anyone would love. Rum, lime, and sugar are the components used in the Lone Wolf Lounge’s recipe.1X4A9190

The Patient Zero is Ripley’s and Worley’s take on the tropical drink that is said to have started the tiki craze of the 1930s, Don the Beachcomber’s “The Zombie.”

The recipe for an original Zombie is said to use lime, rum, Grenadine, Angostura bitters, Pernod, grapefruit, and cinnamon.

The Lone Wolf Lounge makes this drink their own by adding banana, cardamom, almond, and the most important ingredient of all—rum. To be expected, it is served in a wooden tiki totem mug.

For those who want to feel like they are in affluent Malibu instead of our eclectic town, the Treating Objects Like Women should be your drink of choice. Served in a sleek tall glass tumbler, vodka, pomegranate grenadine, lime juice, orange juice, and ice make up this fruity yet refreshing drink.

You truly cannot select anything bad when choosing from The Lone Wolf Lounge’s House Cocktail list. And if you manage to drink through the entire thing, the (other) Cocktail list offers all of the usual tiki creations, such as a Pina Colada and a Hurricane.

The beer list is just as well rounded as the cocktail side of the menu, many of which are favorite beers of Worley and Ripley.

As Worley puts it, “if we don’t like to drink it, you probably are not going to find it on the menu.”

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What might be surprising is the care the pair took in selecting the wines offered at the Lone Wolf Lounge. Every available option of fermented grape would make any sommelier proud.

The Lone Wolf should only grow from here. Ripley and Worley plan on adding pool tables, darts, and the like to additional space in the back.

The future of the Lounge is stacked full, considering they are currently only using half of the space. The remaining half will bring much more to patrons in the near future.

For now, Ripley and Worley are happy running an establishment that aims to bridge local businesses together by offering a hangout where everyone around town can come together and get to know one another, all of course at a reasonable price.

Original article is here.