RT2014: Savannah History & Bonaventure

I keep repeating myself but we wake to yet another beautiful, sunny day in the south. Expected to climb into the 90’s today. We want to head out early to capture Historic Savannah before the sun becomes too harsh for photos…and people.

Yesterday’s hop on hop off tour was excellent for knowing where we wanted to be today. For breakfast we are trying the well recommended Clary’s Cafe. Right downtown in the historic district and open for breakfast, Clary’s seems ideal. We elect to sit outside on the sidewalk.

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Many other patrons choose to as well and we meet a few roadtrippers like us and many many canines, travelers and locals. Our waitress drops by for our drinks order. OJ is not fresh squeezed and she notes probably for the first time that yes this is a shame. I opt for it anyways, coffee as well. I’m going to go with their specialty Crab Cakes Benedict, after asking if the Chicken Fried Steak was fresh or frozen. Frozen. Rob is having the corned beef hash.

Everybody but us has a dog or dogs with them. Waitresses are prepared with treats and all the the furbabies are well behaved. Savannah is dog friendly. I walked by at least one business with a gorgeous long haired kitty preening in the window. This speaks well of a city.

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Sitting in the warming shade, chatting with fellow travelers and dog lovers is a pleasant start to our final day in Savannah. Coffee arrives, lukewarm. It is refilled generously several times but it never gets hot. Breakfast is served and we dig in. My benny is fine. The eggs are well poached, nice and runny. The English muffin is perfectly toasty and chewy. Breakfast came with the choice of grits or homefries. When in the south I choose grits. Unfortunately these grits were tasteless and unseasoned, but nothing a pat of butter and salt and pepper couldn’t fix. They turned out okay after all. The crab cakes are merely fine. Maybe it’s my expectations. I think big chunks of luscious, white crab barely held together with egg and potato and I get shredded crab held together with a lot of potato. I don’t fault Clarey’s, but I think I’m over crab cakes. Also I’m confused about something. My eggs benny comes with “Canadian” bacon. In Canada, Canadian bacon is peameal bacon. We don’t call it Canadian bacon but Americans do. But when you go to the States and get Canadian bacon it is this round of over processed, pale ham-like substance. Anyways anything less than salty, cured pork tenderloin with a layer of juicy fat and a peameal crust is unacceptable. I digress.

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Rob’s breakfast is quite good. Clary’s calls corned beef hash one of their specialties. They corn their own beef briskets and it shows. Rich with corned beef, onions and potato, it’s a winner. Served with two cooked eggs, the aforementioned heavily-adjusted grits and a good biscuit. All in all, the food in Savannah has been fine. Nothing exceptional, nothing we will gush about to future dinner guests. We have done our research, talked to people, taken the advice of the hotel, been to highly recommended places, but we have not found the real Savannah dining wise. If it indeed exists. (Stay tuned).

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After we settle up, we park Moby and head into the Historic District to take pictures. Downtown Savannah is as charming and quaint as they come. Architectural detail abounds, gaslights flicker, gardens are lush, alleyways are secret treasures, planters and topiaries are exquisite.

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Row upon row of colourful homes delight the viewer. The lush green park squares allow you to sit, reflect and refresh.

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The cicadas serenade. Many squares feature fountains or statuary usually dedicated to a military hero. Some have bodies interred within. One square is a legitimate cemetery. Savannah is a fabulous walking city if you are mindful of your footing. Sidewalks are old and paved with bricks. I could walk for hours.

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After a very pleasant morning spent in the Historic District, we head to Thunderbolt to the Bonaventure Cemetery, famous for being featured in the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The cemetery is also the final resting place of two confederate generals and Little Gracie Watson, a six year old who died of pneumonia in 1889. A top her grave is a life sized sculpture of her rendered by then up and coming sculptor, John Walz. It is rumoured that if you place a penny in her hand and walk around her grave three times it will be gone. The much visited grave site now has a pretty wrought iron fence around it.

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Bonaventure is peaceful and serene. You can drive through in a car and pull over along the way to walk and snap photos. The cemetery is noted for its beautiful statuary. Live oaks and Spanish moss grace the plots. Gravely paths have to be navigated with some care as ancient tree roots have broken through the surface. It is less orderly than Oakland in Atlanta but every bit as charming and lovely.

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Rob digs around a little more on the internet, determined, and finds a dinner place walking distance from the hotel. Vic’s on the River. We set off despairing of finding a meal to write home about.

Vic’s is on Bay street. Part of the building faces Bay Street and part faces the river. A piano man tinkles the ivories as we enter and we are seated at a lovely table for two by the 12 foot window looking out onto Bay and an exquisite live oak.

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Vic’s oozes southern gentility, with black linens, silver and warm, light peach walls. Blonde wood floors show generations of wear, window boxes overflowing with hostas, sedums and soft, silver wormwood boldly underline the magnificent old windows. So very simple, so very elegant.

Warm buttermilk biscuits with whipped, honeyed butter appear on the table while we refresh from the day’s heat with gin and tonics. We are enjoying watching our neighbour, “Pebbles”, a strawberry blond 18 month old with her wispy curls piled on top of her head in a fountain tail, eat with great gusto.

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The menu is inspired but we manage to settle on two apps. I’m having the Crawfish Beignets and Rob, reminiscing his childhood, orders the chicken livers. Both are excellent choices.  The improperly named crawfish beignets are  more of an empanada. 3 soft, flaky, delicious half moon pastries were filled with a lightly sweet crawfish filling and dressed with a sweet hot tabasco drizzle. Excellent, inspired, but one would have sufficed. Ok, maybe two.

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The chicken livers were exquisite. Perfectly cooked (overcooked and they get tough and chewy) and bathed in a luxurious sauce of sauteed onion and bacon in a wine and stock reduction. They brought Rob back to his childhood where he got to eat the cooked liver from that night’s chicken and loved it.

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Mains come with a salad course and we both opt for the classic iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing. The salad comes nicely chilled with an excellent, mild, blue cheese dressing. Cucumbers and cherry tomatoes accessorize, as do home made buttermilk biscuit croutons. Bacon would have added a nice smokey, salty punch but was absent from this classic. This wedge was a nice, manageable size unlike some of the monsters I have been served.

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Mains arrive in a nicely paced fashion. Rob orders a steak with truffle butter, accompanied by a corn grits souffle and sauteed spinach. The steak is a delicious medium rare and the truffle butter is entirely superfluous and gets scraped off to the side. The grit souffle is cheesy and light with a slight smoky edge from some smoked chile.

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My southern fried pork chop is a thing of beauty, golden, crisp, crunchy coated, bathed in a luscious, rich, creamy wild mushroom sauce and nestled on golden mashed potatoes with perfect tender crisp green beans. This was Southern comfort on a plate. I will be thinking about this dish for sometime to come. Perfect on all counts.

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We slowly sip the remainder of our rosè and stroll back in the evening light to our hotel. End of a perfect day.

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We have really enjoyed the beauty of Savannah. I continue to admire the cleanliness and civic pride in the city and within Georgia as a whole. Tomorrow, we cross the Talmadge Memorial Bridge into South Carolina and head north to Hilton Head.

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