After at least six months of eager anticipation, reading up on menu choices in advance, riding by Habersham to watch the progress of Zach Shultz and partners Brandon & Kimberly Whitestone’s dream of farm-to-table gracious dining arise from the bricks and piles of wood slats, at last the word came down that “Cotton & Rye” was ready. Crazy me, I had to get there opening night—only dinner and Sunday Brunch are available, at least for now, so we had a 6pm reservation.
Dining alone, while sometimes a necessity, is not my favorite way to go when trying out a fresh, new eatery, so I had my sister and mother accompany me on this foodie jaunt. In this summer heat, when offered a table outside on the covered porch, I quickly requested an inside spot! The cool gray and warm cream color scheme, soft sunlight flowing in and setting the maple woods aglow, and the glorious bank of congratulatory bouquets lining the side bar, made the inside a welcoming place to be—not to mention the bonus of a healthy air conditioner!
The ‘Rye’ of the name here is eponymous and ultimately satisfying, brought to you in the form of freshly-baked rye slices, nestled in a homey white cotton cloth with blue stripes. Now, with three hungry diners at the table, we were pining for that bread—we received just three lovely slices, along with an admirably softened, thick pat of real butter—so I encouraged Mama Bear to ask for more. She got hold of a nice young waiter who practically scrambled to bring more warm bread to the table. Let me blushingly confess, we took down FIVE helpings of those crusty, tender slices.
By this time, Kimberly had noticed our patient waiting so she kindly checked on the progress of the order AND brought us a basket of delicately thin, fresh fried, vinegar & salt chips to munch on. Hey, you got my attention already—that’s my favorite flavor since, well, forever! At last the Panzanella appeared: a truly lovely dish, with bright green olives, cherry tomato halves, delicious house-made croutons, cucumbers, fresh oregano and generously topped with crumbled, snow white feta. The red wine vinegar perfectly suited the taste of the salad—simplicity itself!—and the veggies were crisp from the garden.
The Octopus fingerlings, smoky, rich in flavor, tender and oh so fetchingly surrounded by a caramelized onions and green spears of cut asparagus, turned out to be my favorite dish; this wonderful appetizer, accompanied by the Panzanella, would be a perfect, light summer lunch. I anticipated a morose reaction from Mama Bear when the Shrimp n’ Grits arrived—to be honest, though the shrimp were of a good size and nicely grilled, the dish could have used a lot more actual grits—but she surprised me by saying it was so tasty she wanted to come back soon and order it again!
The wine and cocktail list is impressive here—I had to try anything called a “Chupacabra”: tequila, agave syrup, orange and lime juice, topped off with a delicate white foam of whipped egg whites. Two observations here: if you are familiar with Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour, the ‘Chupacabra’ will definitely bring it to mind. Second, when this $12 cocktail arrived at the table, all three of us got the “big eyes”. I had to ask, “Is this the sample size? Eh, heheheh….”, the server tells me. “No, this is the actual drink!” Ok. Yes, it tastes good; no, it’s not particularly strong. Maybe I’ll skip the cocktails next time.
The entrees were suitably amazing, however, and Mama Bear ordered her favorite Fried Shrimp; she and my sis told Rachel they were to split the dish— the kitchen helpfully divided the entree onto two plates for us. Truth be told, they were the BIGGEST shrimp I’d ever seen served ANY-where! Golden, crunchy, mildly seasoned, and served with fresh-made hand-cut fries, it made a good size meal for them both, and the house-made dill-lemon tartar sauce was superb!
My Striped Bass was mouth-wateringly tender and white inside, almost juicy, and the outside crust seared to a perfect, dainty chewiness. It came topped with fresh herbs, and nestled on a bed of roasted corn, bacon bits, sweet red pepper and onion. The menu states that butterbeans are included in the succotash, though there were none present—yet the flavor did not suffer for it. I love butterbeans, don’t get me wrong, but being so sated with fresh rye bread and tasty appetizers, I didn’t have the heart to complain.
Sunday brought the three of us back for Brunch, with a table reserved for 1pm–I like to know for certain we’ll have a seat, especially with a very new & popular place—yet there was plenty of open tables when we got there—better safe than sorry, though. Soft sunlight filtered through the cool room, and the bartenders were busy making delightful cocktails and mixes topped with fresh mint, celery sticks, edible flowers and fruit purée. The atmosphere was definitely more laid back than the weekdays, and the hostess and servers cheerful.
The Cuban Sandwich here set my heart a-pounding at first bite! The buttery, toasted bread had a wonderfully chewy *crunch*; the tasty Taylor Ham from New Jersey was a perfect companion to the juicy, smoky mound of shredded pork, and with the Gruyere cheese, pickles and mustard, made such a seductively delicious whole that I took out the entire sandwich, and mentally apologized to anyone waiting at home for a taste—sorry, kids, this one’s for Mama! Not wanting anything heavy like fries so early in the day, I ordered the Fresh Fruit Bowl instead with juicy, chunky peaches, watermelon and strawberries—the naturally sweet fruit with the smoky-savory meats made it a satisfying combination.
Sis Lori chose the light and surprisingly good Bibb Lettuce & Chicken Salad made with smoky, seasoned pieces of grilled chicken thigh-meat, with grapes, pecans, cornbread croutons, & bacon-sorghum vinaigrette. Please note: this is not “chicken salad” made with mayo, etc., but hunks of tender chicken atop a salad of fresh greens—I mention this because it may cause a little confusion when ordering. We both enjoyed the tasty chicken, and agreed the cornbread croutons could have been a bit crunchier; the dressing was suitably sweet and full of real bacon bits.
Mama Bear went with the Shrimp ‘n Grits, brunch style: cheesy, stone-ground grits mixed with grilled shrimp, tomato and herbs, served with two fried eggs and 3 slices of buttery rye toast. This is the full-size brunch dish, larger than the appetizer, which she loved– this time, though, it came up a little short. The shrimp and other ingredients were mixed together in a dollop that seemed rather small for the price, and was not particularly appealing in appearance. We all tried it and found that the shrimp did not quite compare to the taste of appetizer, and there were less shrimp as well. Also, please note, if you like your eggs on the crispy side, you’ll love’em here, with golden-brown crispy edges—if you prefer a more poached, clean look of pure whites and golden yolks, you should ask for them that way.
We finished up with a superb Bread Pudding made with Challah, moist yet firm, lightly spiced and with a soupçon of brandy; served up warm in a small cast iron skillet and swimming in a luscious pool of sweet egg custard, then topped with delicately sautéed fresh peach slices and blueberries. We made the mistake of only ordering one: it was so incredible it became a competition to see who could scrape up the last tasty bit with the divine sauce!
New enough to still be working out a few kinks, I think Cotton & Rye will soon pull all the details together to amaze and delight, becoming a top 10 listing among Savannah foodies. I will be coming back soon, culinary best-buds in tow, to try out whatever fresh menu choices Zach and Brandon care to improvise! You can count on it!
Cotton & Rye
1801 Habersham St., Savannah, GA
TUES-THURS: 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
FRI & SAT: 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
SUN (brunch): 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Baisden Solis