Sunny with a Chance of Okra

What’s on Savannah’s foodie forecast? Andrea Goto sat down with a couple of resident epicures—and their kids—to get their predictions.  »  Photography by Katie McGee.

Welcome to Ground Zero for Savannah’s foodie scene: the restaurant that has put us on the map worldwide.  If you think that The Lady & Sons is just for tourists willing to wait in lines longer than those at a St. Patrick’s Day portable potty, feast your eyes (and appetite) on this insider information straight from the mouth of Jamie Deenlocals can call ahead for a reservation.  That’s right, with nothing more than a local phone number, you can use your VIP status to bypass the tired and hungry trolley riders.  Inside, you’ll enjoy the comfort food, friendly waitstaff and dining-room chatter that actually caters to laidback locals—especially those with kids in tow.

I decided to test the restaurant’s limits (and my own patience) by herding three families together for libations and lemonade in order to discuss the future of our city’s foodscape and to answer the eternal question, “Will our kids eat it and like it?”

Savannah Magazine:  What do you think Savannah’s food scene needs in order to be considered a “foodie town?”

Jesse Blanco (host, Eat it and Like It):  (To Jamie) You want to go first?

Jamie:  I’ll let you go first, and I’ll just agree with what you said.

Jessie:  Man, I’ve asked the chefs this a million times.  We need a new arena downtown that will bring major acts through here.  Revitalize this.  Then you get the next rock star chef to open a restaurant here because then you will have that kind of traffic.  You need one guy, and it would put the word out about us being more than—

Jamie:  More than Southern food?

Jesse:  Right, right.  We do have great food.  Everybody comes here for this (gestures toward the table).  It’s wonderful.  But I know you (to Jamie) have been asked a million times, “We’ve gone to Lady & Sons, but where else should we go?”  And nobody knows.  That’s the whole premise for what I started doing, to answer that question.

Jamie:  I think we’re already known for other things, and I don’t think “foodie town” fits into that.  I think we’re known for a big St. Patrick’s Day celebration, for the art school, River Street, Gulfstream—there are so many things here that you may go to first—there’s just so much that we are.  When you come here, you can drink outside!

So many people visit here looking for Southern food, but I say go to Wall’s BBQ.  Go to Ele.  Sean and Ele (Tran) are doing great food.  Their place on the Southside—

SM:  Tangerine?

Jamie:  Yeah, Tangerine.  When I started eating there four or five years ago, it was phenomenal.  I was like, “You guys have got to come out to the islands,” and they finally did.  And now they’ve opened that new place downtown—Fire—which is going to be super-good.  And then Jesse finds places that are small and have great food.  So you’ve just got to look for it.

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SM:  We all have our children here tonight, and they seem to be enjoying themselves.  What are some other family-friendly restaurants in Savannah?

Jesse:  Alexandra eats where my wife and I go.  I’ve taken her to a steakhouse in New York City, and all she does is talk about that steak.  So she eats where we eat, and she’s cool with it.  We have a rule: you don’t have to like it, but you have to try it.

SM:  See, I’ve been taking a chapter from your book, telling Ava to “eat it and like it.”

(Laughter)

Jamie:  We turn every place we go into a kids’ restaurant.  We’ll take our kids to Ele out on the island.

Brooke:  We don’t order off kids’ menus.  We just get them something healthy off of the adult menu.

Jamie:  That’s something new we’re doing here—the kids’ menu will incorporate smaller portions of healthy adult fare for the kids.  I wouldn’t order off the kids’ menu here, you know?  It’s grilled cheese, little corn dogs.  There’s a lot of kid-friendly healthy food on the buffet, like seasoned rice.

SM:  But if you’re going to a nice place like Ele, with its elegant dining room complete with white tablecloths, what do you do to prepare your kids for that experience?  Bring the iPad?

Brooke:  We started out doing that.

Jamie:  The first thing I do is move silverware and glasses.  Especially at Ele, you know?  They’ve got four glasses and all those pieces of silverware.  I remove it all.

Ray:  Andrea does that for me, too.

(Laughter)

Jesse:  We’ve gotten into letting Alexandra bring her iPod touch.  And it’s somewhat discreet.

Brooke:  For the first three years, we traveled around with a portable DVD player, and everyone looked at me like, “That’s a good idea!”  It was the only way we could eat, but I knew it was a stage and that he’d grow out of it.  With kids and eating out, you just have to keep taking them and taking them, and they finally get used to it—like this one here—(she pats Matthew on the back).

Ray:  Make sure you indicate in the article that she’s pointing to Jamie.

Jamie:  (Laughing) Because I carry on like I do?  No matter what, it’s going to be challenging.  And if (Matthew) gets vocal, and I gotta get up and walk around, then I don’t really need another fried okra, you know?

SM:  Have you had any dining disaster?

Brooke:  We’ve left before the food arrived.  But I think Jack is even better at a restaurant than he is at home.

Go Behind the Scenes on Jamie’s and Jesse’s shows.

To get the unadulterated truth about dining out, I wander over to the kiddie table.

SM:  What are y’all eating over here?

Alexandra:  Black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, macaroni—

Jack:  You guys are gonna be so scared!

SM:  Why?

 

Jack:  I’m drawing something that’s gonna make you scared. (He draws an incredible alien that does, in fact, scare me.)

SM:  What’s your favorite thing to order?

Alexandra:  Steak.

SM:  Steak?!  Kind of expensive isn’t it?

Alexandra:  (Giggles and nods)

Jack:  The Westin!  Pancakes!

Brooke:  The Westin brunch has French-toast pancake batter that you can mix in sprinkles, blueberries, whatever you want.

Alexandra:  I like a place if it has really good food and if it has a coloring sheet while I wait.  And I like to bring my iPod touch.

SM:  Did you have to show your parents how to use it?

Alexandra:  I had to show my mom, but not my dad.

(Back at the grown-ups’ table…)

SM:  People recognize you, Jamie and Jesse, from your shows when you’re dining out.  Do fans sometimes interrupt your meals?

Jamie:  You know, people just want to visit.  Jesse’s from South Florida, people are friendly out there—they visit with everybody.  I’m from South Georgia.  It’s the same way.  I’ve been talking to everybody that’ll talk to me since before anybody even wanted to talk to me.

Jesse:  Right!  Yeah, that’s a great way to put it.

Jamie: Walking down the street, I’d always say, “Hey, y’all!  How you doing?”  It’s an extension of who I am.  Being in this service for so many years, I’ve been talking to strangers for half my life.  It’s never a problem.

SM:  Even with Paula and the family making the headlines so much as of late?

Jamie:  It’s been kind of a tough quarter.  You know, all these here are brand new tables.  We took all the old tables and donated them to Habitat for Humanity.  You’ll never hear about that.  We’ve fed over a million people through food donations as part of Smithfield Foods hunger initiative.  You’ll never hear about that.  It’s not really a market for good news, you know?

SM:  True.  And that’s what I like about Jesse’s show, “Eat It and Like It.”  It promotes some good restaurants that are starting to pop up in unexpected places.

Jamie:  I think that trend is driven by affordability.  The (downtown) prices are driving them out.  I’m thinking of Green Truck and Wall’s BBQ and other places in midtown.  You know, there are a lot of people in midtown who’ve got to eat, like in the Medical Arts district.  That’s where we started The Bag Lady.  There’s traffic there at lunch.

Jesse:  It’s even out in Sandfly now.  Wright Square Café is out there.  So if it’s good food, people are going to find it.  You know, Tangerine does well, and they’re way out on the Southside.  Jamie will drive all the way out there to have it.  I know people who drive from The Landings to Ele.  That’s not a quick drive.  It’s good food, though.

Jamie:  It’s like that around Starland, too.  Back in the Day (Bakery) is great.  Cheryl and Griff (Day) are awesome, and their cookbook is gorgeous.  And Starland Café is super great.  It’s casual and good.  People are going more organic and cleaner.  You know, you don’t need white tablecloths.  Starland is scaled down, but you get a panini with cheese and bacon, and it’s good.  Green Truck is that same way.

SM:  I went to Butterhead Greens for the first time and it was delicious.  I ordered a salad and a cup of soup because I wasn’t sure I’d have enough food.  That salad was so big, I couldn’t even digest it.

Jamie:  I’m going.  Salad is my favorite food.

Jesse:  There are a lot of “stuffy” restaurants out there, but I would think that the trend is more where you can see the kitchen.  It’s loud.  It’s great food.  But it’s also an experience.

Jamie:  It’s high-end food but served in a casual atmosphere.  I think that’s a sign of the times, too.  I can’t stand to go sit in a stuffy place.  No matter where I am or whom I’m with, it’s not my thing.  I just want to go eat because I’m hungry.  But a place that doesn’t care about their food or care about you as a consumer?  I don’t see how places like that can stay in business.

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