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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up close of the mushroom burger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the original article.

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article is here.

JThomas Kitchen

JThomas Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chef Thomas plating chicken and waffles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chicken and waffles with cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Snapper ontop of a corn rissotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article is here.

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livingood explained the selection to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article can be found here

Authentic Upscale Italian hits Savannah: La Scala

Authentic Upscale Italian hits Savannah: La Scala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article can be found here

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The Diner Bar at The Grey

The Diner Bar at The Grey

Being a food writer, I’m often confronted with the question, “Which restaurant do you recommend?” As you can imagine, that question has never proffered a straightforward answer.

There are so many variables to consider before lending proper advice: price range, cuisine type, location, ambience, the list goes on. What I can tell you is that my list of contenders almost always includes the same cornerstone group of restaurants, the places I’ve visited multiple times and where I’ve always experienced a consistent dinner service.

The Diner Bar at The Grey has perpetually stayed on my shortlist of go-to’s. The reason is simple—The Diner Bar, which sits at at the front of the old Greyhound station that houses The Grey Restaurant, gives patrons a laidback taste of The Grey without the need for a reservation or a more formal dining experience.

Last year, when I sat down with owner John O. Morisano for an interview on The Grey’s latest venture, The Grey Market, he revealed to me that The Diner Bar would soon be changing its menu.

Although disappointed because I would be losing access to my favorite fried chicken sandwich in all of town, I was elated to have the opportunity to try even more delicious recipes from the mind of truly talented executive chef and Morisano’s business partner, Mashama Bailey.

For those who have had the chicken schnitzel sandwich over at the Diner Bar, do not fret—the new menu of the Diner Bar features Chicken Biscuits & Gravy. Now your list of favorite Savannah chicken biscuits can squeeze in a new contender.

The biscuit is textbook, delicate and fluffy, and includes whole grain mustard that is slathered on top. The idea is to cut through the richness of the oversized crispy chicken thigh that sits between the decadent Southern biscuit that would surely make your grandmother proud.
I asked Morisano about the change and his explanation expedited my grieving of the schnitzel.

He said, “When Mashama and I started The Grey the thing we said is, the thing we want to be known for is not being known for anything. We did not want to have that dish that people came for and you lived in fear of taking it off the menu. It is called the ‘riot dish.’ You take it off and it causes a riot.”

As a lover of all things food, his response excited me. Avoiding a stagnant menu not only keeps the kitchen engaged, but it excites the customers as well. Knowing you’ll receive a consistent experience with the team at The Grey means that you should feel comfortable letting go of your go-to menu item.

Morisano explained the second reason behind the change in menu at The Diner Bar. “The idea was to use ingredients that we have in-house, so that we can streamline the food we are making for the [The Grey] dining room with the food we are making in The Diner Bar.”

Originally The Diner Bar ran its food service with just the charcuterie station and a few other things. As time passed, and the restaurant group became more successful, the ability to expand the menu of The Diner Bar opened.

The Tartare Tartine, a beef tartar created with dry aged beef that is served with crusty house baked sourdough and pickled ginger, is the perfect dish to get a taste of The Grey without the need for a reserved table.

You will find a more refined version of the beef tartar on the dinner menu of The Grey, but as Morisano puts it “this is a down and dirty, slap-it-on-a-piece-of-toast version, and it is delicious.”

My favorite story told by Morisano is how new menu item the Big Dog, a chili, slaw, and mustard smothered beef
One of the new menu items, the Big Dog, named after a rather memorable incident in which a disappointed patron had a few choice words for Morisano, consists of chili, slaw, and a mustard smothered beef hot dog.

Morisano explained that Chef Bailey never considered adding a hotdog to the menu until she tasted the hotdog that sits at the base of this dish.

The Spicy Fried Oysters is a Lowcountry play on Nashville hot chicken.

“The hot oysters are the hottest thing that Mashama has ever had on a menu anywhere. It is a ridiculously delicious plate of food,” Morisano told me, and I am confident in his word on it.

The crispy fried oysters are served with milk bread to cut through the heat of Chef Bailey’s comeback sauce.

A few things have stayed the same at The Diner Bar. The Diner Bar offers raw oysters from all over the eastern American coast. The presentation is simple, a wedge of lemon and mignonette.

With such fresh, clean-flavored oysters the accompaniment does not have to be over the top. I recommend starting your meal with a dozen of each kind offered, especially considering Morisano told me that their raw oyster happy hour is back on the menu.

The cocktails rotate seasonally, but the care and attention placed into each luscious libation has not changed. No matter which cocktail list is available, you will find a happy hour prices until 6 p.m. and a weekly wildcard cocktail offering.

During my last visit I was able to try the Blush wildcard cocktail, a delicate refreshing pink adult beverage shaken with gin, Campari, vermouth, and lime. Past wildcard cocktails have included a spin on a negroni and a spin on the bijou.

Just like our last meeting, during this sit down Morisano filled me in on yet another changing menu. The Grey Market launched a new menu last week.

The first thing Morisano mentioned was the burger—“We are changing the burger around. We are messing with the ratio of beef to bun,” because as Morisano explained it, “What makes the perfect burger is the perfect ratio.”

Other notable new options at The Grey Market include their potato wedges turned into disco fries, lamb birmingham, a pan perdue, and a rotisserie chicken flatbread.

Also, I would be remiss to not mention Chef Bailey’s appearance on the Netflix series, “Chef’s Table” premiering Feb. 22.
You may want to make your reservations or belly up to the Diner Bar before then. Something tells me that it may get a little more difficult to get in after that.

Original article is here.

The Newest Bakery in Savannah: Mad Mac’s

The Newest Bakery in Savannah: Mad Mac’s

My favorite kind of article to write is the one where I stumble upon a new place—literally.

Several weeks ago, while walking through Wright Square after lunch, I noticed an open sign in the space that once occupied Our Daily Bread.

Intrigued, I immediately walked in and asked the lady behind the counter, “What is this?” She promptly responded, “Mad Mac’s Bakery.”

A quick glance around and my eyes were filled with colorful French macarons, cookies, muffins, and everything in between. I knew immediately I wanted to write about my lucky find.

That lady turned out to be Dee Gibson, mother to owner of Mad Mac’s Bakery, Logan McDonald. While I was in the bakery buying more baked goods than I could stomach, we chatted quickly and without hesitation set me up an interview with McDonald.

I was elated, because a second trip to Mad Mac’s would give me an ample excuse to buy even more sweet treats, which I did.

During my first visit I purchased a six pack of macarons. The price is quite possibly the best in town — you get a half a dozen for only ten bucks.

A few of the flavors I took home included Mexican hot chocolate, confetti, and pistachio. Each macaron had a textbook execution with a light crunchy shell that gives way to a tender and chewy inside.

I also grabbed a few Cup Cookies, which was by far my favorite cookie offered at Mad Mac’s. Cookie dough is mushed into a muffin pan before being baked. The result is a baked good with the perfect cookie texture—a crunchy shell and an ooey gooey soft cookie center. The Cup Cookies have everything you could love about a well baked cookie warm out of the oven.

Mad Mac’s did not stop at simply baking a cookie. Each cup is topped with a hefty piping of soft buttery icing. The chocolate chip was my favorite (mainly because I feel as though a chocolate chip cookie is the ultimate cookie), but the snickerdoodle was just as scrumptious.

I am told by McDonald that the Heath Bar Cup Cookie is their most popular. A third trip may be in order to hunt down the Heath Bar version.

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When I returned to learn about Mad Mac’s from McDonald, I first asked him several questions about the place, then purchased a few more treats to round out my experience.
My first question was, “Where does Mad-Mac’s come from?” McDonald shed some light saying, “My last name is McDonald and McDonald’s is already taken, and of course it works with macarons.”

Of course, I then followed with a series of questions about his recipes and all of the baked good available.

McDonald is the great-grandson of Mabel Francis Potter of Mabel’s Cupckae Emporium. Baking and working with Mabel’s, the idea of Mad Mac’s was not a new one, and had been thrown around before. When the storefront became available, McDonald seized his opportunity to branch out from his family.

Although McDonald is doing his own thing, he explains, “A lot of the recipes come from my great-grandmother Mabel Francis Potter with the cupcake emporium. I am have a little bit of a different take, keeping her naming going and modernizing it a little bit.”

I next ask McDonald about all of the macarons since French macarons seem to be the cornerstone of the store. He tells me that they “make them in house and a lot of places do not…we are constantly making new flavors. We probably have around thirty flavors of macarons.”

Even though there are enough variations of macarons to make anyone happy, the second case of treats in the store is well round and rotates like the macarons.
According to McDonald, “the menu changes, but you can always expect it to include French macarons.”

Because of the ever-available macarons, my second visit I decided to take home some cookie sandwiches and a muffin. The muffin did not make it home.

I never eaten a muffin and expect to be totally wowed. Was I pleasantly surprised with the muffin from Mad Mac’s? Yes. Completely taken aback.

I state this without hesitation—the apple muffin at Mad-Mac’s was one of the most enjoyable muffins I have ever eaten. Large chunks of apple added into the batter make the finished muffin so moist it is almost sticky.

Somehow a super-fine and delicate cake crumble is created by their recipe. McDonald also mentions having a berry and mango filled muffin available as well. The addition of mango into a classic berry muffin highlights his modern take on his family recipes.

As for the cookie sandwich, like all of the other treats in the mountain of baked goods I tried, it was heavenly. Inside of two classic chocolate chip cookies you will find a slathering sweet silky icing. The Red Velvet Cookie Sandwich is a deep dark red cookie with coated with a white glaze and filled with a classic frosting.

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Finally, the case had a Magic Bar, which McDonald says has been extremely popular with patrons. It is created using graham cracker, coconut, chocolate and a few other things. “It’s a gooey coconut chocolate bar. It is glorious,” McDonald says.

McDonald plans to open a comic book shop in the back of the bakery. Which begs the question—why open a comic book store in a bakery?

McDonald elevated my wonder by saying, “Whenever I go into a comic book store it is almost a scary thing. It is a dark place with water dripping down the ceiling. I always wanted to have a high end comic book store.”

Patrons can expect the paper portion of the storefront to open its doors between March and April.

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.