Seeing Savannah: Southern Hospitality and Sweet Dining

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American towns don’t come much more beautiful than Savannah, seventeen miles up the Savannah River from the ocean. The historic district, arranged around Spanish-moss-swathed garden squares, formed the core of the original city and boasts examples of just about every architectural style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The cobbled waterfront on the Savannah River is edged by towering old cotton warehouses. If you’re planning a trip to visit this classic American beauty, these lodging and dining recommendations will ensure you get the most out of your time in Savannah.

Photo credit: www.iaes.org.

One of the most beloved hotels in Savannah is The Marshall House. Some aspects of this hotel — especially the second-story cast-iron veranda — might remind you of a 19th-century hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It originally opened in 1851 as the then-finest hotel in Savannah. In 1864 and 1865, it functioned as a Union army hospital before housing such luminaries as Conrad Aiken and Joel Chandler Harris, author of Stories of Uncle Remus. After a ratty-looking decline, it closed — some people thought permanently — in 1957. In 1999, it reopened as a “boutique-style” inn. Despite the fact that this place has some of the trappings of an upscale B&B, some aspects of this place evoke a busy commercial motel. Guest rooms succeed at being mass-production-style cozy without being particularly opulent. Seven of the largest and most historically evocative rooms in the hotel are on the second floor, overlooking noisy Broughton Street, and are prefaced with wrought-iron verandas with wrought-iron furniture. All rooms contain neatly kept bathrooms with showers. The bar has exposed brick, a very Southern clientele, and green leather upholstery.

The Mansion on Forsyth Park is the most opulent and spectacular boutique hotel in Savannah. Its core, known as the Kayton Family Mansion, was built in 1888 of terra-cotta bricks in a high-ceilinged, neo-Romanesque style. This place is international and more of a (tasteful) version of a Las Vegas blockbuster hotel than anything else in southeastern Georgia. Part of its allure derives from the rotating series of more than 400 paintings that sheath the walls of both the public areas and the upper hallways. Expect a plush environment with gilded cove moldings; Beaux Arts marble statues of, among others, turn-of-the-20th-century rococo goddesses at their baths; lavish antique chandeliers; and Versace copies of 19th-century French armchairs upholstered in faux zebra or leopard skin. The hotel’s focal point is a courtyard and a small but artfully postmodern swimming pool. Bedrooms are avant-garde and plush, and among the most spacious in Savannah.

There’s also the Hamilton Turner Inn, which exudes romance and decadence as well.

Photo credit: www.hamilton-turnerinn.com

Savannah is an old, coastal Southern town, and its restaurants reflect this in the traditional southern cuisine and numerous seafood dishes. Local seafood specialties include crab cakes and crab stew, shrimp, and oysters. A traditional low country boil, found on many menus, consists of boiled shrimp or crawfish with smoked sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes. Pecans, grown in Georgia, find themselves in a variety of main dishes, especially in desserts. If you have room, try a slice of pecan pie, or drop by one of the candy shops on River Street for some sugared or glazed pecans.

Photo credit: FastCompny.com.

One of the premiere dining destinations in Savannah is Elizabeth, a Low country restaurant housed in an early 20th-century mansion where the décor may be prissy but the food is anything but. The revered Elizabeth Terry is no longer the chef, but critics still run out of superlatives trying to describe the seafood-rich menu and what is arguably Savannah’s quintessential dining experience. You won’t go wrong with the shrimp and grits with red-eye gravy, traditionally made from leftover coffee, Bluffton oysters served three ways, including raw with tomato-cilantro ice, or snapper with a chewy crust of shredded potato and asiago cheese.  A few establishments commit to providing patrons with a true southern dining experience. The Lady and Sons offers southern food for lunch or dinner on a full buffet or from a menu. People line up daily for the home-style southern food and family style dining at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room.

While many of Savannah’s establishments operate in historic buildings, some have particularly interesting pastas, which makes the experience all the more memorable. The famous Pirates’ House was once an Inn that hosted seamen from ships docked at the nearby River Street port. Fifteen unique dining rooms preserve the old port tavern atmosphere. The Boar’s Head Tavern & Grill , is the oldest restaurant on River Street, established in 1962 when the city began giving a facelift to the old cotton warehouses along the river. The Moon River Brewing Company , Savannah’s only microbrewery, operates in what was once the City Hotel, which operated until the end of the Civil War. The Olde Pink House Restaurant, a romantic Savannah favorite on Reynolds Square, is located in a mansion, circa 1796, which served as the headquarters for General York, after General Sherman and Union troops took the city.

Any coastal town guarantees restaurants offering pleasant views, and Savannah is no different. The variety of waterfront views makes Savannah special. Establishments along River Street provide views of the Savannah River. Here you can watch the huge ships and barges pass by on their way to Savannah’s international port. Savannah allows restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks in plastic cups that patrons may take with them. River Street is a perfect place to grab a drink or an ice cream cone and sit to watch the activity on the water. If you want to get even closer to the river while you dine, the Savannah River Queen offers lunch and dinner cruises in addition to tours.

The Tybee Island area offers restaurants with views of the expansive salt marshes and rivers that wind through them. The Crab Shack , a dockside restaurant and bar, sits on Chimney Creek. Every table on the deck or the screened porch gets a great view of the marsh. On Tybee Island beach, The Dolphin Reef Oceanfront Restaurant at the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort and the North Beach Grill , near the Tybee Island Lighthouse , provide excellent beach and ocean views.

Above photo from Stay In Savannah.com – http://www.stayinsavannah.com. (tons more useful information on their site as well about this gem of a destination).

This is just a sampling of the lodging and dining that Savannah has to offer, and the variety of entertainment in the city guarantees you will have too much to see for a single visit. Regardless of the length and purpose of your stay in Savannah, this picturesque Southern town has a perfect selection of hotels and restaurants to choose from!

Nathan Miller
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