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The New South: A Culinary Guide to Savannah, Georgia

Legendary bars and restaurants, gorgeous antebellum architecture, and keen property prices have created a boom in Savannah, Georgia, a town with a deep connection to food and entertaining

Known as the Hostess City, Savannah has long been a town associated with culinary delights, where diners bar-hop before standing in line for Southern staples like crispy fried chicken, sweet and sour collard greens, creamy stone-ground grits, and melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk biscuits.

Today, it’s also home to what’s being called the New South cuisine, a sophisticated take on regional fare pioneered by chefs like Mashama Bailey, who was named Best Chef in the Southeast 2019 by the James Beard Foundation for her restaurant, The Grey. Each of Savanna’s neighborhoods has a culinary claim to fame, and some dazzling properties to match.

The Grey restaurant Savannah
At The Grey, which is housed in an elegantly converted bus station on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, chef Mashama Bailey pays tribute to the local fare she enjoyed as a child, the new flavors and techniques she learned to love while studying in France, and the dishes she cooked while working at Prune in New York, image: Emily Andrews. Banner image: River Street, Savannah Historical Centre, Alamy

Historic Landmark District
Of course, there’s no talking about Savannah without mentioning the gorgeous antebellum architecture and the city’s vibrancy and drive for restoration, pioneered by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). It’s a fiercely protected neighborhood that takes in most of downtown and includes 22 of the city’s original 24 18th-century squares lined with huge oaks dripping Spanish moss. This pristine preservation is the prime appeal of Savannah, according to Elaine Seabolt of Seabolt Brokers, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region.

Savannah College of Art and Design
Parents of students at the Savannah College of Art and Design are snapping up homes as an investment as well as temporary accommodation for their children. Image: Alamy

“It’s what drew me to the town when I passed through several years ago. I fell in love with a house, bought it, and have stayed ever since,” says Seabolt, noting that ‘magical’ is a word she hears frequently from out-of-town clients about a city not only handsome but exceptionally friendly: “However new you are in town, you can still break in.”

The Olde Pink House Savannah Georgia
Habersham House—now known as The Olde Pink House Restaurant and Planters Tavern—opened in 1771. The native brick bled through the plastered walls and changed the color of the exterior from white to pink.

Appealing to business owners like herself relocating from other parts of the United States as well as empty nesters, Seabolt cites restaurants like the Olde Pink House—where classic Southern recipes have been served for decades in a series of small rooms—and Elizabeth on 37th in the neighboring Victorian district as driving the love affair with Savannah’s historic core. Personally, though, she prefers newer offerings such as Circa 1875 and the Asian-fusion cuisine of Chive Sea Bar & Lounge.

I fell in love with a house in the Savannah Historical District, bought it, and have stayed ever since – Elaine Seabolt

Artillery Bar Savannah Georgia
Artillery is named after the Georgia Hussars’ armory, which once stood on the spot and housed the cavalry's artillery.

The Historic Landmark District is also home to the elegant Artillery cocktail bar and the rooftop bar of Savannah’s newest five-star, the Perry Lane Hotel, while Elaine recommends an after-work cocktail at neighborhood watering-hole 17Hundred90, tucked away in a small street near her office: “It looks like a dive, but anyone who’s anyone is there—some locals have been going every night for more than 20 years!”

Factors Walk Savannah
Discover Factors Walk in Downtown Savannah, Georgia, with its unique shops, cozy cafes, and historic hotels. Image: Shutterstock

Other institutions not to be missed in the historic neighborhoods are Mrs Wilkes Dining Room, where locals have for years been standing in line for fried chicken with a huge variety of sides so popular the restaurant can afford to close on weekends, and Husk, which has found a home inside of a reportedly haunted mansion. Like Mashama Bailey’s The Grey—whose grits topped with foie gras are Savannah’s most lauded new food sensation—Husk reinvents Southern staples such as fried chicken, subtly spiced and elegantly presented with outstanding creamy grits.

Leopold's ice cream parlor
The iconic Leopold's ice cream shop, Savannah, Georgia, has been serving customers with ice cream, sodas, milkshakes, and malts for a century.

When it comes to dessert, there’s no finer ice cream than the rich flavors served by Leopold’s on Broughton Street for the past 100 years. Their best-seller may be the full-fat butter pecan, but don’t miss the Sicilian-inspired Tutti Frutti packed with candied maraschino cherries—an original 1919 favorite—and is still going strong.

Housed in a former filling station, Atlantic is a popular and laid-back neighborhood restaurant and bar.

Starland District
Jason Restivo, owner of Starland’s Atlantic restaurant, which has been winning accolades for its buzzy vibe as well as the out-there dishes on its frequently changing menu, admits: “When I moved here from California they said you couldn’t open a restaurant in this neighborhood on a bet.” Thanks in part to his baking—“I make in-house the kind of sourdough you couldn’t get in Savannah”— and that of Cheryl Day, whose Starland bakery Back in the Day has been voted Georgia’s favorite restaurant, the neighborhood has come right up. “It’s increasingly popular with millennials, SCAD students, and professors,” reports Seabolt associate Cindy Meyer, citing exceptional vintage stores like Gypsy World as an additional draw to the hip quarter sometimes described as the Arts District.

Starland is increasingly popular with millennials, Savannah College of Art and Design students, and professors – Cindy Meyer

Atlantic is helped by an outstanding wine list comprising bottles from award-winning producers in countries such as Israel that are typically under-represented on American lists, as well as domestic winemakers. Helping things along are deceptively simple-sounding dishes such as tomato toast—sourdough spread with locally loved Duke’s mayo laced with melted bacon fat and topped with sliced heirloom tomatoes and basil creating an appetizer to die for. Locals also cite the duck, and vegan options such as roasted carrots with tahini, among dishes that bring them back time and again.

The historic Mercer House in the Savannah Historic District, Georgia. Gorgeous antebellum architecture, a vibrancy and drive for restoration, and keen property prices have created a boom in Savannah’s property market, where even former down-at-heel neighborhoods are rapidly regentrifying. Image: Shutterstock

Tybee Island
Meyer is a long-time resident of Tybee, one of several islands on the edge of the riverside city whose deep-water properties attract families and boat-owners. “We get a lot of requests for marsh views and docks,” says Seabolt of the seagrass-fringed shoreline, which has attracted the likes of actor, producer, and philanthropist Sandra Bullock. While the Tybee Island Social Club offers live music with food on the weekend, Meyer prefers the Sundae Cafe. Serving a full range of meat and seafood favorites, this former ice-cream parlor is also vegan-friendly and offers gluten-free options.

Such a thriving contemporary restaurant scene, combined with the ageless appeal of its architecture and beautiful location, mean that Savannah is set to remain one of the South’s top luxury picks for a long time to come.

On the Market
23 W Gordon Savannah Georgia
Located at 23 W Gordon Street, near Savannah’s Forsyth Park, Saussy Mansion has undergone an extensive two-year renovation project, adding 4,000 square feet to this already grand seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom mansion.
1520 Walthour Savannah
Framed by Spanish Moss trees and overlooking the water at 1520 Walthour Road, this stunning seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom mansion oozes Southern charm. On the market with Seabolt Real Estate, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region.