Delicious Decadance: Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, GA

Recommended: YES! If you appreciate food at all, go now.

The odd old abandoned-looking mansion at 37th and Drayton, Elizabeth’s, has long loomed over me as a must-eat restaurant in Savannah. It continually receives rave reviews, the highest ratings, and even a spot in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. It’s one of only two places mentioned in Savannah, GA, and NO, the other one isn’t Paula Deen’s. I finally had the opportunity to visit last Monday for our monthly “nice-dinner-out,” and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

From the moment we arrived, we were surrounded by a sea of attentive servers, assuring that our water glasses were never half empty. Our main waiter was knowledgeable, friendly, and extremely helpful. The only thing I can really complain about is the close proximity of the tables; fortunately, our neighbor table was speaking German, otherwise I feel I would have eavesdropped on their entire conversation. (It’s unavoidable!)

The food really blew me away. Such thought and care go into preparing each dish, that it’s amazing the prices are what they are. I know many people have complained to me about the prices, but all of the entrees are between $30 and $40 for a large portion, served with appropriate sides and a fresh house salad served with herbs from the garden. (Yes, they grow all their own herbs out back!)

The meal starts with a lovely batch of homemade biscuits, a bit warm; the type that really crumble in your mouth. It’s served with butter and homemade orange marmalade which is absolutely decadent. We ate two baskets of biscuits alone, and not because we were that hungry. The marmalade is delicious; with a little butter, it’s like an orange melting in your mouth.

Next, onto the appetizer. We decided to try out one of their specials: 2 sea scallops with diced sashimi grade tuna and cabbage piled on top in a sweet and tangy marinade and a light wasabi cream sauce drizzled on top. They were served to us one each on our own serving plate so that we could each dig in and truly experience the dish. The combination of flavors was a masterpiece, and the scallop was well prepared. It wasn’t quite melt-in-your-mouth (like Noble Fare) but it was still one of the best scallops I’ve ever tasted. It’s also worth mentioning that this was the first and only time I didn’t gag at the smell of wasabi. It was just the slightest hint of wasabi, making it delicious.

Chef’s tasting was a single mussel which I believe had been baked (to perfection) in something garlic-y and tomato-y, then dabbed with some slightly spiced aioli. My boyfriend described it as “the best mussel I’ve ever had.It was a bit of a shame that the mussels weren’t on the menu as a full appetizer because they really were delicious.

The house salad I would assume changes with the seasons based on the availability of herbs. Our salad was some chopped mixed greens, sprinkled with some minced mint and what may have been thyme? I’m not entirely sure. It was served with a bit of cantaloupe, some fine bits of goat cheese (I believe!) and was tossed in a very light dressing. The first bite is a bit unexpected because of the mint and herb flavor, but you quickly realize that new and different aren’t always bad; in fact, those herbs grow on you – fast – and getting the perfect bite (with fruit, cheese, herb and greens) makes the salad as much a challenge as it is enjoyable.

Finally, the main course. We both ordered specials; I got the black sea bass over Gullah rice with a “salad” of sliced cucumber, tomato and onion in a light vinaigrette. The bass was mild and delicious, a softer fish than what I usually enjoy, but perfectly complimented by the almost crunchy bits in the rice. I can’t even identify all of the vegetables in there, but I saw some celery which shocked me since I normally hate celery. I had to fish out a few bits of bacon since they forgot that I asked for the rice without, but I’m sure the bacon gives it some of its nice, smoky flavor. And the crispness of the salad, a bit sweet, but in a different way than the rice and salad really made the dish feel complete.

My boyfriend ordered the other special, a red snapper that absolutely melted in your mouth. Whatever it was prepared over had ham in it which is why I refrained from ordering it, but the snapper itself was delicious. And it was served with a corn pudding, which I’ve never had before. It was like a little scoop of creamed corn with more cream than corn, and a nicely browned top to make it ever-so-slightly crisp.

So the food was amazing, the service was outstanding, and I will definitely be back. My favorite restaurant in Savannah will remain Alligator Soul, but maybe if I get to try out a more autumnal menu at Elizabeth on 37th’s . . .

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Create Your Own Pizza Masterpiece at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s in Savannah, GA

Recommended: Go for the PIZZA, not for the wait

Vinnie’s in Savannah is one of my all-time favorite pizza places, and that’s saying a lot coming from someone who doesn’t particularly like pizza. That’s right, I don’t like pizza. I know it’s odd, but I’ve just never had much of a taste for it, save perhaps the sauceless white variety. However, on rare occasions, when I get a craving, it’s always for Vinnie’s because they give the customer so much freedom to put whatever they want on it.

Don’t eat meat? No problem. Vinnie’s offers fifteen – no, make that SIXTEEN toppings if you include extra cheese for vegetarians. Nobody else wants to eat the “garden-style” pizza you’ve conjured up? That’s cool, too, because you can buy everything by the slice, including all those fancily topped pizzas. For $2.50 you get a slice of cheese pizza that is the equivalent of at least two from a whole pie. Then, for between .50 and .75 a piece, you can add any topping you like. My favorite pizza consists of spinach, artichoke and feta which costs me about $4.75. That sounds a bit crazy for a single slice of pizza, but trust me, it’s an entire meal. I typically eat quite a bit, so I can’t so most people wanting more than 2 slices, which still averages under $10 for food. Not a bad deal, especially in City Market.

The pizza itself is pretty remarkable in my opinion. I’m a sucker for a thin, crispy crust, and Vinnie’s has perfectly crisp crust. When I’m eating pizza, I want to taste the toppings, not mushy dough, like some other places in town seem to fill the pizza with. Maybe that’s just a personal preference, but Vinnie’s crust is great. The toppings also taste fresh, and they give you a lot of them. My perfect slice tastes kind of like spinach and artichoke dip with a bit of marinara, and everything goes together just perfectly. This is definitely a great place to get creative with your food.

Now for the bad stuff. Don’t worry, none of it is food related. First, they have pretty strange hours. They’re open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday, but not the rest of the week. The rest of the week they don’t open until 4pm, which I think is unfortunate since sometimes I just wanna sit back and have some pizza while I watch a baseball game. Another downfall is the crowds. The place is located in City Market which gets tons of tourist action in addition to SCAD students and locals. You can typically expect a 30-40 minute wait on a Friday night since they have pretty limited seating. And the seating is pretty weird, too. Outdoor tables under an awning that has roll down flaps in case it rains. They do have a small indoor bar area, but how many people want to sit at a bar and have a meal with friends? I’m also not too impressed by the service. The servers can be a bit scattered, probably because they get overwhelmed with tables. I don’t blame them, but don’t expect to get in and get out. It’s MUCH faster than another pizza joint downtown, though, so it’s not all bad. And remember to bring your cash because it’s cas only, no matter how high your bill is.

If you’ve got a chunk of time to spend and you don’t mind some crappy eclectic seating options, I definitely suggest a visit to Vinnie Van Go-Go’s because the food will make you forget about all your other complaints.

 

Overall Rating: 8/10 (taste always takes precedence over the other stuff)

Fresh, Flavorful Food at Neo Cantina in Asheville, NC

Recommended: Si!

This is by far my favorite Mexican restaurant ever. Maybe I’m biased because they use fresh, local ingredients when possible, but the food speaks for itself. The dishes are bursting with flavor and have a slightly Caribbean twist, making it stand out from other Mexican restaurants. And it doesn’t hurt that Neo Cantina is located in beautiful and historic Biltmore Village, enhancing the dining experience.

This was our last stop before leaving Asheville, and since I’d been before (and enjoyed it), I wanted to go back. The main attraction last time was their fresh, delicious margaritas, but this visit was all about the food. I’ve only recently gotten a taste for guacamole, so we ordered a dish of guac to accompany our salsa. At $5, it was a bit pricey, but the portion was huge. It was also PERFECT. The combination of flavors was balanced and rich. I’d recently had some guacamole that was way too heavy on the lime, but at Neo Cantina, everything blended together to make something really delicious.

For dinner, I ordered the fish tacos, which consisted of two tacos filled with white fish filets (I ordered grilled, but you can get them crispy and fried,) lettuce, and salsa. It comes with a side of Mexican cabbage and mango salsa, as well as a sort of spiced aioli, all of which tastes excellent when mixed up with the taco. I tried eating it like a regular taco in the soft taco shell, but the best way to eat it is to mix all of the ingredients with the cabbage, sauce and salsa along with the rice and black beans. I got some sour cream to add to it too, and the result was something like a seven layer bean dip with chunks of fish and mango. Delicious! I could only finish one, so I took the rest home and had a complete meal the next day. And I NEVER take Mexican food home. But this tasted just as good the second day, making the $10 price a steal.

My boyfriend got the beef tacos, which were 2 for $8 and just as much food as my fish tacos. Even though I couldn’t try them, they looked just as delicious as mine.

In addition to delicious food, the place boasts a great atmosphere as well as a quick, friendly staff. When we walked in, the place was relatively dead because we were between lunch and dinner. The man walking in behind us was actually an employee, and he seated us before he even set his backpack down. He ended up being our waiter and was just as attentive throughout our meal.

If you’re in Asheville, be sure to stop by Neo Cantina for a delicious, Caribbean-inspired Mexican dish.

Bonus: all of the restaurants in Asheville seemed to have at least a score of 95, making them as clean as they are delicious!

Overall Rating: 10/10

Hawaiian Paradise at Roy’s in Orlando, FL

Recommended: YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

After an amazing trip to Walt Disney World, my boyfriend and I quickly followed up with a celebratory vacation to Universal Studios for his college graduation. I decided to try and step outside of my Disney dining comfort zone and book a few restaurants that came highly recommended either by friends or web reviews. My first choice, in lieu of Disney’s Ohana, was Roy’s Restaurant.

This Hawaiian themed restaurant exuded a hip sophistication from its very professional website, but one thing bothered me. The restaurant has a few locations in large cities around the country, so I worried that it might lose some of its culinary credit since each restaurant had a different chef. However, the website did reassure me that each chef collaborated with the originator of the restaurant. I was still wary.

It was a little complicated to find, but once we were in the right plaza, the location was unmistakeable with its tiki torches adorning the front of an earthy-looking structure. The place looked warm and inviting, and it only took a few minutes to be seated for our reservation (which we were about 5 minutes late to!) The inside had ambient lighting and an expansive dining area that still appeared intimate by the way the space was divided. Also worth mentioning was the friendliness of the waitstaff. Everyone was incredibly helpful and accommodating, especially our waitress, whom I will address later.

The main star OF this restaurant was the food and drink. They had a list of specialty drinks which all included top shelf alcohols, fresh fruits and mixers that made the drinks taste as if they were best suited for whiling away the hours on a sandy beach. And the price is reasonable – both of ours were under $10. Not bad for top shelf alcohol at a fine dining establishment.

Instead of bread, the restaurant offers unlimited edamame to munch on before getting your food. We started off with a sushi roll as an appetizer: the lobster California roll. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s fantastic. The avocado was fresh and a bit of spicy mayo was mixed in with the lobster meat. I had originally requested a bit of spicy mayo on the side, but the roll was delicious on its own. And the 8 pieces are rather large, making it a perfect-sized appetizer.

I ordered the Gorgonzola and Garlic Spinach Crusted Hawaiian Shutome. For those not familiar, shutome is a Hawaiian swordfish with a mild taste and firm texture. The dish is served with some crab meat and a blue crab cream sauce which makes the surrounding ingredients melt seamlessly together with the fish. And the portions are generous to say the least.

Another bonus is that they fly in their tuna fresh from Hawaii daily. I got to try the Roy’s Original Hawaiian Blackened Island Ahi and it was amazing how fresh it tasted. Although the flavors in my opinion didn’t meld as effortlessly as my dish, it was still delicious.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, be sure to tell them when you call in or go online to make the reservation. We were celebrating a graduation and they personalized our menus and gave us a dessert on the house. The desserts are made fresh at the restaurant, and the chocolate souffle (with a warm, chocolate middle) was delicious. Warm, rich, and delicious.

Finally, our waitress. She made our experience more special than I ever imagined restaurant staff could. They offer to take a picture of guests and print it out as a commemorative souvenir. We were unfortunate in that our photograph was taken just as the ink was running out of the printer. Our waitress was so sweet to take a picture with her iPhone and send it to both of our emails from her phone so we could have the souvenir. In addition to being all-around attentive, she made our night unforgettable.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Elegant Mediocrity at Garibaldi’s in Savannah, GA

Recommended: Maybe for the experience, but not for the food.

I’d been to Garibaldi’s once before, but I didn’t really have much of a chance to try more than some soup and salad. This time, I had the opportunity to sit down, relax and enjoy the full menu. I think I preferred the soup and salad.

The location of Garibaldi’s is one to be envied: on Congress Street in the heart of downtown Savannah. Making great use of the space, Garibaldi’s has one of the most intimate and sophisticated atmospheres of any restaurant in Savannah. Downstairs, the dim lighting and elegant furnishings set a romantic mood for guests. Upstairs, sophistication rules. High ceilings and a flooding of natural light from the great big windows makes diners feel as they are in a very important place.

Service is equally exceptional. Our waiter was attentive and knowledgeable about the menu, as well as helpful in making decisions about what to order. The manager made rounds throughout the restaurant making sure diners were satisfied. It’s unfortunate that the food doesn’t deserve similar compliments.

I started with a pear and goat cheese salad. The word salad, however, might be a bit of a stress. In reality, it’s a small sprinkling of mixed greens topped by an entire pickled pear sliced and laid on top. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s overpowering. It would be delicious in a small portion, with a bit more of the other ingredients to balance the flavor. They might as well not even mention the goat cheese since the two fritters it comes with are about the size of a quarter.

And then came the mussels. I only tried one, but it was an overpoweringly fishy flavor basted in a (very) lightly flavored broth that was incapable of masking the fishy flavor. The texture was something between slimy and gummy. They would stick to the shell, but once in your mouth had a texture similar to raw oysters. In fact, when we notified the manager, he tried them and agreed: they were bad.

For my main course, I had been between the scallops and the red snapper special. I chose the scallops because I couldn’t resist the orzo. What a mistake. For $22 I got 3 tiny bay scallops atop a lump of average-tasting orzo. The scallops were chewy and overcooked, with very little seasoning. They were probably the most disappointing scallops I’ve ever had, and scallops are my favorite dish. I will say that I tried a bite of the fried shrimp and they were good. Not great, but the batter was light and a bit sweet. And there were more than 3 of them.

I wouldn’t really recommend this restaurant except for the atmosphere. A soup and salad lunch in that romantic atmosphere with a waiter who follows my every command? Yes, please. But I won’t trust them with much more than greens and dressing.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Authentic Italian in Savannah – Leoci’s Trattoria

Recommended: Absolutely.

As all little hole-in-the-wall eateries, Leoci’s Trattoria is a bit off the beaten foodie path, and somewhat hidden to passers-by. But the reward for those who catch a glimpse of the twinkle lights adorning the back patio or the simple, understated sign out front is a delicious slice of authentic Italian cuisine.

I used to be skeptical of Leoci’s because after all, it took the place of one of my favorite restaurants in Savannah – Sweet Leaf Cafe. But I couldn’t help but be attracted to a place with a bocce ball court and a stunning outdoor patio, complete with white tenting and twinkle lights where once was a rubbled BBQ pit. The simple white linen table cloths and black cloth napkins add to the simple sophistication with which this place emanates. Inside, you feel like you are in a quaint, classy cafe; outside, it’s as though you’re at a charming European bistro.

The atmosphere is backed up by attentive service and superb food. The breads and pastas are made in-house, so you know you’re getting a genuine taste of Italy. The cuisine is a combination between authentic Italian classics and inspired Mediterranean cuisine. So what’s on the menu?

The mussels served in a tomato-based broth are a perfect appetizer, and they are masterfully cooked to perfection. I’m quite picky about mussels, both in my own cooking and at restaurants, and these ones achieve the perfect balance of texture and flavor. The broth is also a delicious dipping sauce for bread. If you’re not a fan of tomatoes, the bread is served with olive oil and an aged vinegar which a perfect balance of sweet and tangy.

While most dishes come with the option of ordering a small or large portion, I chose the mushroom lasagna which is only available as a large portion. No matter, it made fantastic leftovers. Not eating meat, I don’t often get to order lasagna at restaurants, especially since I’m not a fan of tomato sauces with vegetables. This lasagna with light and almost crisp, layering pasta, mushrooms, cheese and spinach in an effortless combination. Topped with a cream-based sauce and garnished with a chive, the presentation was almost as delectable as the taste.

My only complaint would have to be the side caesar salad I ordered. A side salad here is $6.50, which I wouldn’t if there was anything worth that much in the salad. It only consisted of a few pieces of lettuce, two or three croutons (which I believe were homemade), and an overly tangy caesar dressing. In fact, it barely tasted like caesar; it was more vinegary than I’ve ever tasted. However, if my only complaint is a small, pricey salad with bad dressing, well, I’ll cut my losses and steer clear of ordering salads here.

Overall, this restaurant is one of my favorite places to eat. Because they offer small and large portions for most of their dishes, it’s possible to have an affordable and delicious lunch – just don’t order a side caesar salad. If you want to bring a larger group, expect to sit outside since the inside is rather small. Otherwise, this is an excellent restaurant for either a romantic evening out or for a special occasion.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Gryphon Tea Room – Savannah, GA

Recommended: Yes – but only for light meals

So I have passed the Gryphon Tea Room a thousand times, and as a Harry Potter fan, I can’t help but think how close the name is to Gryffindor. Frankly, the beautiful historic interior doesn’t disappoint my wizardly expectations. Housed in an old pharmacy, complete with stain glass windows, sky-high ceilings and a tiled floor, there is a grandeur here befitting the dining room at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the seating is limited indoors, so I dined outdoors at one of the cafe tables lining the surrounding sidewalk.

The menu threw me off a bit at first because it is extremely limited. If you have any dietary restrictions, you would do well to check the menu before settling on this location. I don’t eat meat (I do eat fish,) so my options were further limited. The quiche of the day was fortunately vegetarian, as well as the soups, but neither really tickled my fancy. Another oddity about the menu was the salad selection. The salads that were vegetarian seemed to have, for lack of a better word, odd combinations of vegetables. I’m not a very picky person, but the few things I don’t like happened to show up all over this menu.

Another unfortunate menu mishap: it says they offer fresh squeezed lemonade, but all they had in stock was bottled lemonade. I’m not sure why since lemons don’t exactly go out of season, but it was disappointing.

I chose a sandwich made up of cucumber, fennel and pimento cheese on crustless wheat bread, accompanied by a side salad with homemade bleu cheese dressing. The portion was somewhat small for $9, but I suppose the salad somewhat made up for it. The sandwich was surprisingly delicious. I was skeptical about how the ingredients would taste together, but it was definitely tasty, albeit messy. The salad was disappointing, however, consisting only of a few kinds of greens lightly tossed in a slightly sweet and tangy bleu cheese. It tasted as though it hadn’t been allowed to age properly before being turned into dressing. Although I was comfortably full (read: not stuffed) by the end, I knew I would need to eat something before dinner since the meal wasn’t particularly filling.

My boyfriend tried the trio of scones, which consisted of sandwich-style scones, each filled with something a little different. One had turkey, another had ham and some sort of apple compote perhaps, and the last was filled with a shrimp creation. He told me they were quite good; it seemed as though the turkey was his least favorite. Just like mine, the presentation was lovely, but it left something to be desired in terms of quantity.

Note: He did however tell me he was stuffed afterwards.

Note to that note: He has a small stomach.

Overall, I’ll likely stop here again for a quick bite to eat. Unless they have a quiche or soup that really tickles my fancy, I’ll probably just stick to my cucumber sandwich. This is a pleasant place to stop as long as you don’t have a big appetite.

Overall Rating: 6/10