Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Le Tour de Jacksonville & Savannah- Part 2

Saturday morning, we said goodbye to Jacksonville and headed up I-95 to Savannah. Until last year, the only time I'd been to the city was in 1999 on a middle school field trip. But after we attended the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, BFTB and I spontaneously decided to lenghthen our trip and head to Savannah for a weekend. Unsurprisingly, my memory of the city had faded a little bit during the thirteen years between my two trips, but I instantly realized that the city was going to be one of my favorites. There are so many things to love about Savannah -the history, the art scene, the architecture, the food, the people-watching, and the fact that there are no open container laws. Although we only had 24 hours to spend in Savannah on our most recent visit, we had big plans to accomplish (and eat) a lot!

BFTB got some shade from a "sunbrella"
while we waited in the Zunzi's line.
We got into the city around 1PM and before we had even parked the car, I whipped out my phone and prowled the Internet for lunch recommendations. BFTB had read about Zunzi's, a take-out restaurant that describes its cuisine as "a combination of Swiss, Italian, South African, and Dutch" flavors. A 2012 episode of "Adam Richmand's Best Sandwich in America" pitted Zunzis' Chicken Conquistador against Mitchell Delicatessen's Asian-Italian Giardiniera (Nashville, TN) and Asian Flank Steak Sandwich as well as Time Out Restaurant's Chicken-and-Cheddar Biscuit (Chapel Hill, NC). By the way, whoever recommended Time Out to compete in a "best sandwich" competition must have suffered a traumatic brain injury. There is no quantity of words that can adequately express how much I loathe Time Out. Eating at Time Out is only quasi-acceptable if you're 18 years old and so drunk that you can't even distinguish between your "food" and the styrofoam container in which it is packaged. In college, one of my best friends grew accustomed to eating late night at Time Out after a night of partying. Mistakenly assuming that her inebriated recollection of the food's deliciousness was anything near accurate, she took her mom there for a dinner when her mom came up to visit. Her mom was not impressed and they both decided that for the most part, Time Out is only delicious when your blood alcohol content is too high to legally operate a vehicle.

Portobello Mushroom Sub with Kielbasa
Chicken Conquistador Sandwich
Anyway, despite the low caliber of competition it faced in the "best sandwich" competition, BFTB and I decided to check out Zunzi's for lunch. It was located fairly close to our hotel, so we walked over and joined the line of people waiting to place orders. Only a few people (maybe five or six if they're packed in like sardines) can fit inside Zunzi's at a time, so that leaves a lot of people stuck outside. Fortunately, Zunzi's had placed a bucket of big, silver umbrellas outside so that customers could borrow one and have a little shade while they waited. On the 90+-degree day, this was much appreciated. We used our 20+ minute wait to peruse the menu and debate our options. At the counter, BFTB ordered the Chicken Conquistador Sandwich on pita bread (it's normally served on French bread) and I ordered the Portobello Mushroom Sub with Kielbasa. After waiting a little bit (and being pushed by the grouchy girl in line behind us), our sandwiches were boxed up and handed over. We walked around the corner and sat in an area Zunzi's had roped off and filled with patio table and umbrella sets. BFTB's sandwich consisted of a pita loaded with lettuce and chicken, and accompanied by a little cup of tangy, liquidy white sauce. This was not a pick-up-able sandwich and BFTB immediately got to attacking it with some plastic cutlery. The chicken was juicy to the point that it was dripping. While that made for some interesting taste, it also made for a mess. The mess factor was also an issue with my sandwich, which was loaded up with several big pieces of sausage, melted cheese, marinated zucchini slices, hummus, tomato, and spinach. The French bread did a better job than the pita at containing and balancing out all those ingredients, but like BFTB's sandwich, it was still and fork and knife job. My sub came with two sauces, one pink and one white. Both were vinegary and tangy, but I preferred the pink, which was a bit spicier. For both of our sandwiches, all the flavors were kind of... strange. We both think we liked our sandwiches, but we probably came in with unrealistic expectations. In addition, Zunzi's makes for a heavy meal, so it's worth noting that it might not be the best call to eat there on a hot day when you're planning on walking around in the Savannah sun for a few hours. The more I think about it, I think I could genuinely enjoy Zunzi's if I ate their sandwich when I was really hungry and really cold. While I'm glad we gave Zunzi's a shot (and I'll agree with Mr. Richmand that it's definitely better than Time Out), I don't think I'll need to make a return trip... especially if it means having to wait in line in front of Lady Grumps-a-Lot for another 20 minutes. In my book, Zunzi's gets a 5.5/10.

Even though we ate a heavy lunch, BFTB and I were hungry by the time we needed to head to a.lure for our 9PM dinner reservation. On the way, we stopped at Congress Street Social Club for a few pre-dinner drinks. Our last trip to Savannah had marked the first weekend of college football season, and we'd wound up watching a few games on Congress Street Social Club's outdoor TV's while sharing an order of the bar's delicious Pulled Pork Nachos. It was on the way to a.lure and we knew we liked the scene, so it was a good place to put a few drinks back, but it definitely made me long for the fall (44 days until football season starts... but who's counting?). Anyway, we got to a.lure, and when we were told that our table wasn't quite ready, we opted to sit in the bar area. Whenever BFTB and I tell people that we actually want to sit at the bar, everybody always gives us a sad, apologetic look and tries to convince us to wait for a table. Seriously, I like the bar. BFTB likes the bar. The bar is good. Sitting in the bar area just seems more casual and relaxed and I feel like we can chat about God-knows-what without offending any of our neighboring diners.

Vodka, mint, and sorbet
cocktail at a.lure
Summer shrimp rolls (back) and baked 
feta & tomatoes w/ grilled toast (front)
Once we were seated at a high top (and happy about it!), BFTB and I fawned over the menu. Seriously, there was not a single thing on there that didn't look outstanding. We started with some cocktails. Unfortunately, I can't find a cocktail list online so I can't confirm what I ordered, but I got some kind of vodka/mint situation served with a little scoop of fruity sorbet and BFTB got a gin and tonic-type option that was served in a girly-looking champagne glass (so obviously I made fun of him mercilessly). My drink was the better of the two, but I'm biased because I think gin tastes like Christmas trees. As I was sucking down my glass of liquid deliciousness, our server came by and told us about the specials. I really wish I remembered her name, because she was great -friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and present without strangely lingering or being overbearing. She told us the restaurant's nightly specials, and we were once again overwhelmed with great-sounding options. In the end, we decided to be big fatties and ordered two appetizers to share and we each selected an entree. For our app's, we ordered one of the night's specials, the summer spring rolls, which were loaded with veggies and served wrapped in rice paper alongside some seaweed salad and a peanut sauce. We also ordered an appetizer that isn't on the online menu, but was essentially baked, seasoned feta cheese and a roasted tomato sauce/spread, served with pieces of grilled, buttery toast. Both were outstanding (I feel like I'm using that word a lot, but I assure you it's deserved!). The summer rolls were light and refreshing, and I think my favorite part was the seaweed salad (which I normally think tastes like ocean-flavored plastic). The tomatoes were smoky and perfectly complimented the salty feta, especially when topped with some of the peppery greens that were served with our app. If anything was wrong, it would be that the feta/tomato combo was a little too salty, but I think that's to be expected when you go to a low country restaurant (and particularly if you order something feta-based).

BFTB's red snapper entree
My low country boil (sorry for the poor picture quality)
The meal could have ended at that point and I would have been perfectly pleased, but I'm glad it didn't because our entrees were equally delicious. BFTB had ordered a special, red snapper served with polenta, halicot verts, and a creamy herb-filled sauce. The polenta was very tasty, but the red snapper was out-of-control good. It was cooked perfectly -juicy, but still flaky. The fish was covered on one side with crispy, seasoned skin and the meat itself had texture resembling silk (as much as fish can resemble a worm-spun fabric). Once again, I would have been happy as a clam sharing BFTB's meal, but I'm very glad I decided to over-order because my meal was even better! I had ordered a.lure's take on a Low Country Boil which included local shrimp, a crab cake, baby potatoes, smoked sausage, spicy collards, and a sweet corn souffle. The entire presentation was served with a heavy-handed drizzle of Old Bay hollandaise. I'm a monster when it comes to hollandaise -what's not to love about butter, lemon, and egg yolks?! However, each individual component of my meal was so outstanding that the hollandaise was (almost) unnecessary. I liked having it to dip my crispy, purple potatoes in, but the meal would have been stellar even without it. I also think my collards were, hands down, the best I've ever had (sorry dad, yours have been demoted to number two...). The best testament to their deliciousness is the fact that I didn't add a single drop of vinegar or any other form of seasoning. They were fabulous -tangy but not bitter, fresh-tasting, surprisingly light, and soft without being mushy. The crabcake was meaty and juicy and I didn't have any sad, that-was-all-filler bites. The sausage was also good, but its taste paled in comparison to the other items. When our server came around and asked if we'd like dessert, I, a girl who never orders dessert, was truly sad to report that I was too stuffed to eat another bite. If I haven't gotten my point across by this point, GO TO A.LURE! You will not be disappointed... even if you sit at the bar. I passionately give a.lure a 9.75/10 rating. I'm seriously contemplating driving to Savannah just to go back...

The next day, we woke up, got caffeinated (with coffee for BFTB and Diet Coke for me), and walked over to Chippewa Square to meet Jonathan Stalcup, the owner of Architectural Tours of Savannah. Jonathan graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with both a Bachelor's of Fine Arts and a Master's Degree in Architecture, then went on to start his company and become both a published author and a realtor. This guy was amazing -funny, friendly, and incredibly knowledgeable. We found him on the Internet and the reviews do not exaggerate the greatness of his tour. During our 90-minute walk, Jonathan led our small group throughout the city's squares and explained the history of Savannah, from settlement and colonization up into the present age. Not only did he have an encyclopedia-like knowledge of architecture and design, but Jonathan also provided a wealth of information about the culture, climate, economics, and other factors that impacted the growth and development of Savannah as a city. He also happily provided our group with recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and activities to check out in the area. Our only mistake in taking this tour was that we didn't do it earlier in our trip. Based on everything I learned from Jonathan, I look forward to returning to Savannah and being a more architecturally-knowledgeable and observant explorer during my next visit.


Crab benedict w/ cheese grits (top); Bloody Mary's (bottom right);
Mayme's Omelette w/ hash browns & seasonal fruit (bottom left)
We wrapped up our trip by grabbing brunch at B. Matthew's Eatery on our way out of town. The first time we went to Savannah, BFTB's sister recommended that we check out some brunch place, but we got lost while attempting to find it and ended up at B. Matthew's. The restaurant was about to close for renovations, so we were lucky to slip in during their last operating weekend. We remembered having really great Bloody Mary's and omelettes, so we were excited to return and check the restaurant out post-renovations. Sadly, B. Matthew's let us down. When we arrived, the restaurant was pretty crowded, but several tables that were  supposedly being held open for people with reservations remained empty the entire time we were there... hmm. We think the hostess may have been new or at least overwhelmed by the holiday weekend crowds, but the service seemed unnecessarily slow. Eventually, we were seated at the bar (see, we like the bar!) and put in our orders. BFTB selected Mayme's Omelette (spinach, goat cheese and tomatoes, served with hash browns and fresh, seasonal fruit) and on the bartender's recommendation, I went with the crab benedict (crab patty and poached egg on homemade biscuit, spinach, tomato, roasted garlic-herb hollandaise sauce; served with fresh, seasonal fruit). My inner fatty came out and I opted to sub out fruit (psh... health) for cheese grits. Our food came out pretty quickly (especially relative to how long it took to get seated), but nothing tasted anywhere near as good as we remembered. First, both of our meals were lukewarm and my grits were borderline cold. In the picture, you can see unmelted cheese coating my grits. This wouldn't be an issue if it had ever melted, but it didn't. The cold, shredded cheddar just rested on top of my congealed blob o' grits. The crab patty that formed the base of my benedict also was a letdown. I probably set myself up for disaster by ordering crab when I'd had such a delicious crabcake the night before, but this thing was exceptionally bad. It tasted like squishy, crab-flavored filler and had the texture of a kitchen sponge. The one highlight of my meal was that my egg was poached very well. but otherwise, I was underwhelmed. BFTB's omelette was a little warmer than my food, but wasn't anywhere near the temperature I expect of an egg-based item. The spinach, goat cheese, and tomatoes combined into a relatively tasty filling, but as a whole, the omelette wasn't noteworthy. BFTB's hash browns were the best part of either of our meals. They were cut to a good bite size and were appropriately crispy. Because we were about to drive back to NC, we didn't enjoy in any Bloody Mary's, but I creepily took a picture of some down the bar for reference. All in all, B. Matthew's wasn't anything to rave about, and made for a somewhat disappointing end to our trip. Hopefully their issues were crowd-related and the food is normally better, but I doubt I'll feel the need to eat there again. Based on our return visit, B. Matthew's gets a 6/10.

a.lure on Urbanspoon Zunzi's Take Out on Urbanspoon B. Matthew's Eatery on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. I love Savannah! When we are there, we always have to eat at Vic's on the River. Always great food--and since we had our wedding reception there, good memories, too. This is a great blog!

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  2. Thanks, Rae! I haven't been to Vic's, but I am glad to hear that it lives up to the hype (and I'm especially glad to have another reason to get back down to Savannah). Let me know if there are any particular dishes you recommend!

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