Not too far away from the locally sourced masterpieces or fancy cocktails that you can find downtown Savannah these days was probably the biggest food-related story of the year around these parts. I say food-related because the magnitude of the story had little to do with anyone eating and liking anything so much as it had to do with the place where they were doing said eating and liking. Of course, I am referring to the closing and eventual demolition of Johnny Harris Restaurant on Victory Drive.
The rumors started early this year with word that the landmark was going to close. I heard them all. Of course I heard them all. Everything from someone in the family is going to take over and keep it as is, all the way down to what eventually happened. The family was shutting down and tearing down what was there in order to preserve the building’s legacy. Down the street, meanwhile, a member of the family, a resident of the Johnny Harris family tree, if you will, was going to open a spin-off of sorts. Johnny Harris Restaurant would live on somehow in some other incarnation. In fact, as recently has this week at a holiday gathering I had someone tell me they had heard there was a “Johnny Harris Spin-off” somewhere on Savannah’s South side. The truth? As it does most times, lies somewhere in between.
Corbin Parker is the bow tie clad young man wandering around Bowtie BBQ Company in Savannah. Located on Waters near Eisenhower. His great grandfather “Red”Donaldson bought Johnny Harris in 1942. Corbin spent a lot of his youth working in that kitchen. He learned a lot about food there as well as at any of the families 10 or so Wendy’s restaurants across South Georgia, stretching all the way to Valdosta. It’s where he started wearing a bowtie. “Regular ties just seemed to get in the way of everything I was doing.” Corbin tells me. “So I just started wearing the bow ties”
Ultimately, Corbin wanted to make beer. He moved to Asheville, considered by many the craft brew capital of the South. “I didn’t care what I did, I just wanted to get a job in a brewery.” That plan didn’t go exactly like he had hoped. He did get a job at a brewery, and found himself paying a lot dues in the business. It’s when he started considering opening a BBQ spot. Likely back in his hometown of Savannah.
Fast forward through all of the noise during 2016 and ill-fated social media attempts to ‘Save Johnny Harris’ and you had a young man quietly planning to do his own thing. Bowtie BBQ Company was the plan all along, and it really had nothing at all to do with what was-or wasn’t-going down on Victory Drive.
“We have the Batterless Fried Chicken on the menu” Corbin tells me “and we have an updated version of the 1924 salad.” That’s about all you will find at Bowtie BBQ Company other than the famous Johnny Harris BBQ sauce, which is still produced locally.
What you won’t find at Bow Tie are any gratuitous claims or ties to what his family did for so many years on Victory Drive. No, it isn’t called “Johnny Harris’ Batterless Fried Chicken.” In fact, there is no mention of it anywhere on the menu or in the building. None.
Corbin is determined to make his own name for himself. His own recipes, his own BBQ, his own cocktail program. The latter of which might be the star of the show at Bow Tie. The renovation at the old “Smokehouse BBQ” was thorough. Moving the bar outside created a high-end patio feel. There are TVs everywhere out there and there are more bourbons than you can count. “People come in here all the time and say they feel like they are downtown.” Yes, indeed. Some thought went into this space and they’ve done a very nice job with the build out.
The food is good. I don’t think it is going win any statewide BBQ Championships, but Corbin will be the first to tell you he is just getting started. He is using Savannah River Farms exclusively for his pork product and is putting a ton of time and attention into his sauces, which include the Bowtie Original (Tomato and Vinegar), a Habanero Honey Mustard (fantastic), Hoppin Hickory (made with Southbound IPA Beer) and Sweet and Roasty (Made with Savannah’s PERC Coffee). The creativity and attention to detail is pretty obvious. I’m excited to see where he goes with it all.
I enjoyed my lunch there. I did. Mac and Cheese made with Farfalle, better known as bow tie pasta (see what he did there?) A nice family atmosphere and a great indoor/outdoor area to watch the ball games this holiday season. Bow Tie has only been open a few months, but the word is out in the neighborhood. Weekend dinners, you will very likely wait for a table.
Down the road, Corbin sees himself maybe expanding the concept. Maybe another location somewhere, maybe a brewery attached. Yes, he still has that itch. “I brew at home all the time.” he says.
For now, none of that is important. His focus? A fresh start in Savannah at year’s end, with a tiny tip of the hat to what once was.
See you on TV,