Once upon a time, a high-powered New York City public relations firm, a chef and a restaurant owner were getting a tour of Savannah. During the tour, I’m told their guide said, “At some point, you are going to need to meet Jesse Blanco. He is our local food guy.”
I’m sure Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, said a few other things about me (hopefully, good things) and likely worked in the fact that I can’t ever seem to put my phone down, but the point was made. If you are looking to open a restaurant in Savannah, then at some point, you should meet Jesse. Fair enough. The tour wraps up and the group heads off to dinner.
Fast-forward a few hours and I’m walking into The Florence for some apps and a glass of wine with my wife. As I approach the door, I see a group coming from the other direction. More times than not, I am a gentleman, so I hold the door. They thank me and walk in. A few minutes later, one of the ladies in the group introduces herself to me. She then introduces me to her group. Yes, long story short, the same group that had gotten the tour and was told they needed to meet Jesse Blanco happened to be standing at the bar waiting for a table for dinner next to Jesse Blanco.
(End of third person references. You’re welcome).
Truth be told, this happened just last week, but far be it from me to start us off with a little bit of drama, no?
Talk about happenstance; I just happened upon a story – a great story – and if you are as excited as we are at “Eat It and Like It” about the growth of Savannah’s food scene, you will see why in just a second.
We all know about The Florence. We know about Pacci Savannah inside The Brice Hotel, and we know about 39 Rue de Jean French Bistro coming to the Embassy Suites on the western end of downtown. The Collins Quarter on the corner of Oglethorpe and Bull features the former executive chef at A.Lure, so there is promise there. The Flying Monk on Broughton Street is getting rave reviews and Tybee Island Fish Camp is new to the beach. I’m hearing great early returns, as well.
Well, now I’ve got a new one for you that has a chance to be as good as anything we’ve already mentioned. How do I know? Let’s circle back around to the group on the tour and at the door waiting for their table for dinner.
John Morisano and Mashama Bailey have moved down here from New York City to open The Grey at 109 MLK Blvd. A building that, I am told, was the old Greyhound bus terminal in Savannah before it moved around the corner. Hence the name. Spend five minutes talking about the concept and learning more about what they have in mind and you can’t help but get even more excited about what is happening in Savannah right now.
Before moving down here, Chef Mashama worked at a spot called Prune in New York City. Prune is the recipient of the 2011 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Restaurant and Best Chef. They’ve won one of the best lunches in New York City and best meal under $40. The chef/owner of Prune is Gabrielle Hamilton. I’m going to go out on a limb and say she’s got it going on. Chef Mashama is now going out on her own, having learned from one of New York’s best. It gets better. Mashama went to grammar school on 49th Street in Savannah. Her parents were married in the courthouse across the street from where this spot will be.
I’m told the cuisine will be “Classic Southern with strong influences from Italy and France.” Pretty vague, of course, and we have a number of places like that in town that we can draw from, but new blood is always good. What Savannah needs is culinary talent choosing to come here and stay here, creating building blocks to a Charleston-like foodie scene.
Are we there yet? Of course not, but if you don’t think we are on the move, then you just aren’t paying attention.
A few months back, I had a restaurant group owner ask me if I thought MLK was ready for great food. The rationale being you need locals to survive, and how many locals are going to be willing to drive down there?
My response? “If you have great food, people will find you. I don’t care where you are.”
MLK is about to get a touch-up on its make up, y’all. Deep pockets, serious culinary talent and most importantly, an eye on the long haul.
The corridor will start to change, of that I have no doubt. And we can all look back and say it started with a touch of grey.
See you on TV.