The brother duo behind Savannah Taste Experience, the city’s most popular food tour, are at it with a full-on history of the thing we Savannahians love best: food. From the most influential European cuisines to the homegrown Gullah roots that go into our favorite dishes, we caught up with Stu and Donald. Here, they talk Savannah’s signature dish, our most underrated hot spot and what it will take to make our city the ultimate food destination.
Savannah magazine: What’s a food secret about Savannah that no one knows?
Donald Card: How influential the early Scots were in developing Savannah’s cuisine.
Stu Card: That’s right. You can’t talk about Savannah’s cuisine without mentioning She-Crab soup/Crab stew, and this delicious broth was an adaptation of our early Scottish settlers’ “partan bree,” which literally translates as “crab brew.” Similarly, it was the Scots that initially introduced Southern colonists to fried chicken–granted it was the slaves who added the flavor and spice that we associate with the dish today.
SM: What would you consider to be Savannah’s quintessential food?
Donald: I think that’s the best part of Savannah’s food–that there are arguments for quite a few of them. Crab stew obviously comes to mind, but so does oyster roasts, Low country boil and fried chicken from Mrs. Wilkes.
Stu: What I loved about exploring the stories of Savannah’s restaurants and food in writing this book was the surprising foods that, as Donald mentioned, make good arguments for being “Savannah’s quintessential food.” I mean, how many people on a daily basis eat a Conquistador from Zunzi’s, and where else at the moment can you get that taste? Or sausages from Smith Brothers Butcher Shop that have a unique coarseness? They have been providing Savannahians with meats for almost 100 years. Surely these are contenders.
John Berendt’s book Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil was so good at exposing Savannah’s endearing quirkiness to the world; the seemingly impossible cohabitation of tradition and modern or the juxtaposition of whimsical, almost-bohemianism and button-up aristocrat. So I suppose we hope our wee book illustrates that those concepts in Savannah don’t just relate to its people and its institutions, but to its food and restaurants, too.
SM: What Savannah foodie spot do you think is underrated?
Stu: In the era of TripAdvisor and Yelp, it can seem fairly subjective to claim any one place is underrated or not. But as many of our visiting guests on our Savannah Taste Experience Food Tours inquire where more of the upscale restaurants might be … I dare say, in our pubs. I mean the food that Molly MacPherson’s Scottish Pub puts out is world-class and perhaps unexpected for a pub. Same goes for The Ordinary Pub.
SM: Savannah is on the cusp of being a great food destination. What do you think is required to cement us as a true culinary destination like New Orleans or Paris?
Donald: We actually talk about this a lot and made a bit of an argument for it in the last chapter of our book. I think we just need more world-recognized chefs, not necessarily opening up restaurants in Savannah, but openly acknowledging and endorsing the talent and dishes we already have here.
Stu: I think Savannahians and visitors will have to continue to encourage the Mashama Baileys (The Grey) and Michael Lacys (Cha Bella) of the world to continue to push what Savannah’s cuisine is and can be. We need to make sure when a high-profile chef like Hugh Acheson sets up shop in Savannah that we give them a chance to set roots.
Your go-to spot for a no-fuss, great meal ism…Wall’s BBQ or Crystal Beer Parlor. And Vinnie’s. And Molly’s. I eat a lot. But seriously, that’s as good a definition of Savannah food as any– great meal, no fuss.
SM: What kind of reader would be best for “Savannah Food: A Delicious History?”
Stu: We are hoping there is a little something for most readers in the book. We approached the book from a story perspective.
Donald: More accurately “stories”–plural. We met with many restaurant owners, farmers and shop owners to trace the heritage of many dishes and famed places. Most of these stories have never been written anywhere before. This really gives the book a very unique place on even the most avid Savannah historian.
Stu: And even for those few that have been written, we are hopeful that we’ve been able to give them a fresh view.
You can grab a copy of Savannah Food: A Delicious History at E.Shaver, bookseller or straight from the guys at Savannah Taste Experience.