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48 Hours for Oysters in Savannah

48 Hours for Oysters in Savannah

Each year on our way to Florida for the holidays, my family would reach the Savannah exit on the I-95. With three wild and hungry kids, my parents would pull off the highway and pile us into a Cracker Barrel, and with full bellies we'd fall asleep for the last four hours to the Panhandle. For so long, a big buffet and the smell of Spanish moss was all I knew of the place.

I'm thirty-five and for the very first time, I was able to visit Savannah for more than just the strip of fast food chains and gas stations (no offense, Mom and Dad, I get it!). It's hard to admit that I've been a lot of places for oysters and never ticked Savannah off the bucket list!

Alas, a good friend's wedding made it all possible (thank you, Nica and Rob). But with only 48 hours to squeeze in oyster time between ghost tours and wedding events, I had to be picky.

After a few visits to the Landlocked festival by Oyster South (a nonprofit dedicated to building connections between restaurants and oyster farmers), I had Husk and The Grey, and Brochu's Family Tradition on my list.

Husk

I could write poetry about this place. 
Given the timeframes we had, my friends and I made a reservation for Saturday brunch. I had peeked through previous menus and concluded that the raw bar was for just the dinner service. Though disappointed to miss the oysters, I knew how much of a supporter Husk was to OysterSouth and it felt right to spend our dollars there. Imagine my surprise when I assumed incorrectly and found E.L. McIntosh oysters on the menu. E.L. McIntosh was the first oyster farm (and up until recently, the only farm) in Georgia. We had the great pleasure of slurping Georgia winter salt and sweet-tea adductors as close as we could to the coastline.

Beyond the oysters, the soft cornbread blini with an arc of trout roe pearls became the table’s favorite dish. We cut it up like a pizza and savored each small bite. Our table wasn't sure how the dishes would continue to rise from here, but then the fried chicken arrived.
The bird was so crispy, it soon possessed our table (and that felt fitting in a place like Savannah). Warwick shouted for the neighborhood to hear that it was, “the greatest fried chicken of his lifetime,” and I caught my friend Amanda softly caressing the crunchy thigh.
My belt readjusted when my shrimp and grits with pumpkin seeds and ghee-roasted potatoes arrived. We prayed and sang over it. “Ozella, Ozella!” My Southern great-great stepmother‘s name became the tune in my head between creamy bites. Was it the wine talking, or was the woman actually here, nodding over my shoulder in approval?

The Grey

We arrived to The Grey at 10PM with no shortage of enthusiasm for missing the dinner service again. The front Diner Bar, the entrance to what was once a Greyhound Bus terminal since 1938, still read in neon lights, "FOOD & DRINK, AIR-CONDITIONED WAITRESS SERVICE."

It had everything each friend was hoping to find. For me: the oysters. For Warwick: the cocktails. Tunes: the music. Amanda and Monique: the atmosphere. Here was The Grey, appeasing all expectations and appetites.

"I'm running to the bathroom. Can you order me the Sandra in the Sun?" I asked, intrigued by the chicory, banana, Scotch and Whiskey combination.

Strolling down the backstairs to the loo with Warwick, a woman turned the corner. 

"Wait," said Warwick. "Are you..."?

She smiled. It was Executive Chef Mashama Bailey, a woman I've seen on OysterSouth webinars, in press as the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef Southeast in 2019, and on the Netflix's documentary series, Chef's Table. We confessed our praise, and I, in that state of pure adulation, was very grateful for our fortuitous arrival time.

Between the Murder Point and Blue Pool oysters, pork pate, olives, sardines, and a cheese plate, the five of us snacked on the shareables for an hour, passing drinks and building our partners nibbles from the boards. Our service professional, noting a few Australian accents, shared stories of his time opening a restaurant outside of Melbourne. 

Everything signaled that we were meant to be here, to arrive and claim a diner booth so we could connect with this wonderful team. We drank the finest liquors in beautiful coupes, snacked on delicious bar bites, and went home happy.

The One that Got Away: Brochu's Family Tradition

Time ran out to visit Brochu's, but I had to mention it for anyone's future visit to Savannah. Chef Andrew Brochu's pandemic story of swapping a Chicago location for a Savannah one was shared in Savannah Magazine, and as the good oyster rumor mill would have it, the restaurant's menu is mouthwatering. In regards to the oysters, their menu seems to be less about oyster farm variety and more about the flavor combinations.

Photo source: visitsavannah.com

You'll find half shell in all forms here: raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, baked, and jerked. There's a selection of rare raw accoutrements like yuzu green peppercorn sauce and shiitake nori dry rub. The oysters come in addition to sweet Southern comforts like fried chicken dinners, green tomato sandos, and a "Southern Sofrito" swordfish. And the cocktails, boozy slushies, and beer selections look like the perfect chasers.

What would I have given for one more day?