As I drove home from The Florence tonight, I promised myself I was going to be careful what I said here. I am going to try my best. I have a rule about writing about a new place until 3-6 weeks after they open. I get asked all the time “Hey, have you tried (place X) yet?”. “No, I haven’t”. I don’t like to have my opinion influenced one way or the other too soon. Any restaurant needs some time to get their bearings straight, service in order, and work flow perfected. I admittedly broke this rule of mine and visited The Florence on their first night for two simple reasons. I was invited to come in first thing Wednesday morning when I popped in for coffee, and I had already eaten at two of Hugh Acheson’s restaurants. 5&10 in Athens and Empire State South in Midtown Atlanta. I knew from experience that The Florence was likely to be gangbusters out of the box, or Hugh wasn’t going to open it. Well, I was right.
I have a sneaky feeling Savannah has a game changer on its hands.
One thing I am going to tell you right now, if you are looking for Mom’s Chicken Parmigiana or Fettuccine Alfredo, don’t bother. The Florence is Savannah’s newest Italian restaurant, but there is nothing here that says “Mama Leone’s Kitchen”. Nothing. Well, at least not the Americanized version of Mama at any rate.
I talked to Hugh about this space back in the Fall during the shooting of our Eat It and Like It “Atlanta” episode. We talked at length about the similarities between Italian cuisine and food here in the South. The comparisons, he says, are endless…but that is a story for another time.
The menu is different than anything we have in Savannah. A single meatball ($4) was the best I’ve ever had. I took a few bites and thought there might have been lemon in there. Nope, a quick chat with Executive Chef Kyle Jacovino revealed it was orange zest. For appetizers we tried the house made bread, their poached egg, and the meatball. For dinner we had the La Diavola pizza, and a pasta dish that almost made me cry. “Ricotta Cavatelli” it is called. Roasted pork shoulder, crisp kale, and homemade cavatelli (a type of dumpling made with ricotta). After agreeing it was the best of the lot, we fought over the scraps. You need to try this dish.
The wine list, as Hugh also told us, can be really whatever you want it to be. You can find excellent by the glass choices for as little as $8, but you can also drop over $200 on a bottle if you’d like. The Florence is designed to appeal to everyone. Their sommelier told us about “hidden eggs” in her wine list that are designed to catch the eye of the experienced wine drinker. These are wines that very easily could be priced at double what they charge for them at The Florence, but they don’t, just to reward “Savannah’s wine drinkers.” My business partner, Senea Crystal, spotted one and we enjoyed it every much. I’m not telling. Find ‘em yourself. It’s more fun that way. But a bottle of excellent wine was only $40.
They opened at 5:00pm with no advertising, no special VIP invites, no limited menu, no “soft open”. The Florence let word leak, it spread through social media, and within 90 minutes of their official door opening, they were two deep at the bar and I’m guessing a wait for tables. I couldn’t tell you really because I was at a table, but there were plenty of people enjoying cocktails and every table was full. Every. Table. Was. Full. The buzz had buzzed.
Now, back to being careful. If you follow my columns regularly, then you know I typically call it like I see it. This time will be no different. Am I ready to crown The Florence the best thing to happen to Savannah since Ms. Paula started passing out chocolate gooey cakes? Not even close. One night does not a restaurant make, whether it is good or bad. Understand, this was all good, but the proof will be on your random Tuesday four months from now when Hugh Acheson ISN’T overseeing everything and is off running his empire. Consistency is the mark of the greatness and The Florence hasn’t earned it yet. Time will tell. But if I were a betting man? Well, you know.
One last thing about my conversation with Hugh regarding this place. He said “We like to build them to last. Iconic in their neighborhoods.” Ding! Ding! Ding! Victory and Whitaker will never be the same again. Now, it is up to Savannah to support good food. Is it cheap? Nope. But I’ve also heard Hugh say the only way to make the food scene better in any city is to have people be willing to pay a little more for good quality food.
The Florence is going to deliver. I have every confidence. Now it’s up to Savannah to support it. So much for being careful, right?
See you on TV.