22 Square Rolls On

For those of us that follow along very closely in and around the Savannah restaurant scene, there were few stories last year that turned more heads than the announcement that Chef Lauren Teague had decided to move on from her spot at the Andaz Hotel on Ellis Square. Chef Lauren came in quietly and over time turned her space into the best hotel restaurant in the city. The concept was “Farm to Fork” and she executed it flawlessly. So much so, that we awarded chef with an Eat It and Like It Foodie Award for her passion for locally sourced ingredients. Buying stuff out of the garden at the local YMCA will do that for you. Chef Lauren had a great thing going at the Andaz. Ultimately she moved on to Atlantic in Savannah’s Victorian District where she is drawing rave reviews.

As is always the case, one chef moves on and another moves in. Concepts, many times, are overhauled. Menus get tweaked or worse.  Restaurants can go through an identity crisis if someone dozes off at the wheel.  That hasn’t happened at 22 Square. I can tell you that, while it may have been just a taste of a number of different courses, their new chef John Maffei has no plans to come up short when compared to the successes of his predecessor. Our meal was outstanding.

Chef John came to Savannah from New York City where he worked at a couple of different Andaz properties. He also paid a few dues at New York’s St. Regis Hotel. You hear names like that and immediately question why someone with that kind of experience and talent would be here in little ol’ Savannah. “Have you seen a property tax bill on Long Island?” he said.

Ok, fair enough.

Chef has been in Savannah since last summer, but everything at 22 Square has been quiet since the change in top chef. It usually is when new talent comes in. They examine the menu, costs and what they are going to do moving forward. All while finding time to continue dinner service and banquets for your property. For those people that think chefs just show up 2 hours before dinner service and just start cooking, just ask any of them if that is true, then let me know how hard the laugh later.

My favorite dish we enjoyed that night, and believe me they were all fantastic, were his scallops. Which I found incredibly ironic because I had always thought Andaz had the best scallops in town. They still might. The set up here?  Perfectly seared scallops on a grapefruit brulee, baby watercress and a champagne reduction. I could eat that dish every single day. There is a pasta on the menu, sometimes they add a pasta special. We got to try a squid ink spaghetti with a tiny bite of lobster claw. It was fantastic. The pork porterhouse with purple mashed potatoes and cherry peppers was equally as impressive. We didn’t try it, but yes, he’s got a big ol’ ribeye on his menu as well. I can’t imagine it not being out of this world.

The talent and the creativity is obvious. Recently for a special, he prepared a “Duck Peanut Butter and Jelly” Seared duck breast with pomegranate compote, coconut and hazelnut butter. On another night he served a Tortilla Crusted Mahi Mahi with cucumber pineapple salsa and charred spring onion nage. Don’t know what a nage is? Neither did I until I started asking questions, got an answer and loved this dish even more.

Now, I know a lot of people will look at some of the photos associated with this column and write it off as all that ‘fancy food’ I like to talk about. The reality is, there is more of this kind of food in our city than a lot of people want to admit to or accept.  But 22 Square has something on their menu for everyone. Their Savannah Restaurant Week menu will reflect that. The scallop we talked about is on that menu, as is the pork and purple mash. For dessert chef caught my eye with an espresso creme brulee. I haven’t tried it but I think I may need to talk a walk over there before February 5th to do just that.
I get asked constantly about new restaurants. We talked all about that last week. Everyone wants to get in on the shiny new penny. 22 Square is worth your time for a visit. It’s just a new restaurant that’s been around for a while. I’m certain you will eat it and like it.
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Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.