Saturday, March 27, 2010


I managed to finish a second reading of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” just in time for our visit to Savannah – but what set the wider stage for me are the writings of Pat Conroy (I’m re-reading “Beach Music” now), with his lyrical and loving descriptions of the low country of Georgia and South Carolina.  So, in my innocent “mind’s eye”, I pictured Savannah as a city of graceful, restored historic homes, squares full of live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and refurbished civil-war era warehouses and business establishments, surrounded by low-country wetlands and forests. 

Colonial Park Cemetery Restored Savannah home
Above: A stroll through Colonial Park Cemetery
Below: Savannah Cotton Exchange building
Above: A beautifully restored Savannah home
Below: A square filled with graceful Live Oaks.
Savannah Cotton Exchange Love those trees!

When we exited Interstate 95 to travel the ten or so miles to Skidaway Island State Park (click here to read our review and see more photos), we came face to face with reality: miles and miles of urban/suburban commercial landscape – chain restaurants, gas stations, strip malls, upscale shopping, thrift shopping, medical centers, auto repair, pawn shops, home improvement centers.  Most of the route to the state park campground was stop-and-go traffic, with cars turning in and out parking lots, darting around Scoopy, running red lights – typical urban behavior. 

A drive-through - if you ignore the tree!Picture the Savannah that everyone WANTS to see as the compact center of a bull’s eye target.  Picture Skidaway State Park on the farthest outer ring of the bull’s eye.  Everything in between looks just like the urban/suburban fringe of any medium or large sized city in the U.S. – and why I didn’t expect that, I will never know.  :)  Romantic fool!

Check-in at Skidaway Island State Park is efficient: pay your fees, then drive into the campground and pick out any unoccupied site.  The ranger described the sites as “all pull-throughs”.

Say what?  Once we had navigated the narrow, twisting roads, we ended up backing in to our site, to avoid scraping our (closed) awning off on a tree.  Finally settled into our huge, level site, we took a long, lovely hike to counteract the psychic stress of the hectic traffic.

Scene from a hike at Skidaway Island State Park Back home, I flipped open the computer to research our next day: lunch and touring.  Though many friends and blog readers had recommended things to do in Savannah (in particular, take a trolley tour), we had very few suggestions for “must-eat” dining venues, even from confirmed foodies.

For us, one of the highlights of travel is the exploration of local food specialties.  Although I imagined that Savannah would have some special dish or cuisine that was particularly Savannah, it isn’t the case.  Savannah is all about southern cooking, the down home classics, served cafeteria style, buffet style, or home style.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room was recommended by a few folks, but I’m not a fan of standing in a long line to eat (waits of up to 2 hours reported), so hoped to turn up something different.  Paula Deen’s restaurant is a Mecca for her Food Network fans, but neither Odel nor I watch her, and have heard the place described as “good, but overpriced”.  Thanks to a tip from our reader Pamela, we Googled the “Masada Cafe” at the United House of Prayer for All People – and that was all we needed.   Our “Savannah Tour” agenda set, we fell into bed. 

Saturday’s breakfast was… NOTHING!  Our plan for the day began with an early lunch, as soon as the Masada Cafe opened, and we wanted to save room.  At 10:15 we took off, aiming for a point west of Historic Savannah, described as “off the beaten tourist track”.  Oh, so true.  When we arrived at our destination, a few minutes after 11 am, Odel stepped out of the car, looked at me, and said aloud, “What have you gotten me into this time”?

Odel has his doubts.

Warming up to the experience with a rib

The face of doubt Warming up to the Masada experience

Stepping into the church annex, home to the cafeteria-style cafe, my first impression was: CLEAN.  Unlike many of the “local favorites” we try, this was no dive.  Small, spring-time centerpieces graced the tables, there was no smoky residue to be seen, and the cafeteria line was spotless.  Iretha Durham, the wife of the pastor (35 years) of The United House of Prayer for All People, greeted us from behind the counter, apologizing that they were a little late in opening.

That gave us plenty of time to point, question and sample (NO waiting).  The offerings were pure southern, with one difference: in deference to the desire/need for healthier food choices, the kitchen seasons their “sides” without pork, using smoked turkey instead.  Lunch was “meat and three” – Yankees, that means a meat selection plus three sides.  I can’t even recall all the meat offerings, but I do recall our choices. 

For me: Oxtails and gravy, plus Savannah red rice (cooked with tomato juice instead of water), cabbage, and macaroni and cheese.  Odel: Fried chicken, Savannah red rice, string beans, and dressing with gravy.  Because the fried chicken wasn’t quite ready, he got a rib to chew on while he waited (refer to the smiling photo above).  Sweet tea to drink, of course.

Oxtails and the array of our sides.

Southern fried chicken, straight from the fryer

An array of southern foods. Crispy fried chicken

The highest praise given to southern food is “just like my momma used to make”.   My own momma is California born, like me, so I didn’t grow up on oxtails – but even I can tell this is fine, fine home-style southern cooking.  Odel pronounced the fried chicken as the best he’s ever had (I hope his momma doesn’t read this). 

When Odel visits Memphis, his home town, he always gets a special layer cake, made for him by Odel’s sister’s ex-sister-in-law, Miss Melissa.  I mean, ALWAYS!  When Odel attended a funeral during one visit, Miss Melissa snagged him before the funeral started, took him to her car, opened the trunk, and gave him his four-layer chocolate cake (and I don’t mean a piece, I mean the whole cake)!   Well, stacked at the end of the counter were slices of cake, packaged to go.  Good thing, because I don’t think many folks have the stamina for dessert following that meal – but we took a piece to go.  :)

A Savannah stairway Then we were back in the Jeep and off to the historic center.  We took your advice, readers -purchased our tickets, and happily settled in for a 90 minute narrated tour of the highlights of Savannah history.  The temperature was still 10 degrees below the forecast (just 55 cold degrees); we were full, warm and contented listening to our guide as he navigated the narrow, crowded lanes.  Of course, the Mercer-Williams house was on our tour.

The biggest surprises to me: Savannah was founded in 1733.  History here isn’t just the Civil War, but the Revolutionary War (and before).   I didn’t realize that Savannah is a busy port city, but we saw several freighters head up river as we walked around the city after our tour ended (and our tour guide told us that cruise ships will soon be coming to Savannah).  And, I didn’t realize that South Carolina is right across the river!

Another big surprise: the historic district, including the riverfront, is very small, very walkable.  Try as we might, we couldn’t walk off that lunch!


  1. I loved watching those huge container ships, which went right by Cockspur Island and Ft. Pulaski. The Savannah River at that point is so close to where our campsites were we could nearly reach out and touch them going by.

    I loved the marsh, the Fort, the squares downtown, the River Walk, and just about everything there. I ate out a few times but bought a couple of cookbooks and fixed my own shrimp and grits! Whatta city!

  2. We found Uncle Bubba's to be great food and the corn muffins were to die for.

  3. All that traffic is why we by pass Skid-way Island and stay at Hardeeville in S.C. a nice 10 minute drive through the woods to Downtown Savannah

  4. Which trolley company did you use for your tour?

  5. We used Old Savannah, the white ones. All the trolley companies pick up at the Visitor Center, where we parked. All have some version of on-off privledges. All the trolleys seem similar inside (padded seats, wooden backs). I don't know how to decide which to use, since they all say they are the best. We took Old Savannah because we were standing in a cold breeze and they had a trolley with seats available ready to leave. It was the most expensive, but nice and warm instead! BTW, our driver/guide claimed that Old Savannah was the only locally owned trolley company.

  6. When we were at Colonial Park we bumped into the Caretaker and he gave use a little tour of the cemetery, a few facts that he told us.

    This cemetery was used as a camp by Sherman's troops during the War of Northern Aggression (you learn to use a lot of new expressions after you're down here awhile), they took a lot of the stones down and stacked them in a corner so they would have enough room to exercise their horses. After they left no one knew where the stones should go, so they mounted them on the original back war of the cemetery.

    Also that Nathanael Greene's remains disappeared while Sherman's troop were bivouacked here, they later were found and re-buried in one of the downtown squares.

  7. So glad you had a great time visiting one of my favorite cities... Yes it is hectic getting to there and all but once inside the grand city it is a step back in time. What a GREAT historic city! Have a wonderful day today & travel safe!!!

  8. Good advice to bypass Paula Deen's restaurant...nothing special. Her brother's place, Bubbas, on the other hand is quite good as is The Pirate House....however, be sure you go hungry! A bit on the pricey side, but oh so good! Mrs. Wilkes is a good experience and if you have the time, it is worth the wait.

  9. Mickeyd
    Savannah is a great place to visit and tour. Tour companys do vary in price and emphasis however. The operater that has the gray vans offers the most information about the true southern southern hosptality

  10. Oh my God, Laurie, I opened up your blog and just skimmed it first. When I saw that first picture of Odel at the Masada I felt terrible! He looks so unhappy! I was half afraid to read what you had written, thinking I was about to read that you took my suggestion and hated it. Whew! Glad y'all ended up liking it. (I threw that "y'all" in there for the full Savannah effect.)

    I'm a Conroy fan, too, and have spent many a trip to that area trying to find that "low-county" experience. In the Savannah area, a drive out to Tybee Island will take you through an area pretty close to what you are picturing from the Conroy books. If you like a good breakfast, "The Breakfast Club" on Tybee can't be beat. A lot of people recommend the Crab Shack on Tybee for seafood but I've never tried it. Someone earlier mentioned "Uncle Bubba's" and that's on the way out to Tybee. That is a good suggestion for seafood. It's Paula Deen's brother's restaurant and can get very crowded but the deck out back is in a great low country setting. Their oysters on the grill can't be beat and they have a good low country boil and good fried chicken. Driving from Savannah to Tybee, you would pass right by Bonaventure Cemetary which I still really think you would like.

    Savannah is a great city for walking. I like to walk in the area up around the DeSota Hilton. I think the square across from the DeSota is the one where Forrest Gump sat on the bench throughout the movie. That area isn't far from the Williams House and is a nice break from the more touristy areas. You can stroll past all the gorgeous homes and explore some smaller, more locally oriented shops and businesses.

    One final food suggestion. Ask around and find a place that has a good she-crab soup.

    Sorry this is so long. I'm living vicariously through you.


  11. I am also re-living our recent Savannah experience through this part of your blog. My "Mr Wonderful" (husband of 42 years) complained loud and long as we drove thru the traffic to Skidaway, but we felt that the park and campground were worth the effort. Maybe next time we'll try Hardeville as mentioned by PalmsRV. Enjoy Bubbas if you go. Dione

  12. Dione, we agree that Skidaway is a great place once you are settled - but I wouldn't make that drive for anything under 3 nights! I think we'll try Hardeville next time, too.

    Pamela, we really, really enjoyed Masada Cafe. We had a long chat with the head chef about Geechee (Gullah) food and culture, and where to get a good low country boil (we have several suggestions for Gullah food in Charleston). I thought it was very interesting that they have changed some of their recipes for health reasons. Long conversation about rice and it's importance - really fun stuff for me.

    We visited Tybee Island today and ate at AJ's Dockside. The Crab Stew (not she-crab soup) was so good we bought some to bring home for dinner. :) Po'Boys were so-so, too much bread, untoasted roll.

    Thanks for all the suggestions. Love the interaction!

  13. Forgot to mention that I just finished reading Pat Conroy's "The Water is Wide" which is an autobiographical book about his experiences teaching on a small island south of Hilton Head in 1969--I really love his writing. The book came out in 1972, but was reprinted in 2006 (got it at a campground we were at this winter) so you should be able to find it somewhere. Dione

  14. Reading your blog makes me want to go back again. We took the trolley, I can't remember which one, except that It was hot & humid. I don't know which weather I would prefer. We also ate at Uncle Bubba's and it was very good. We also enjoyed Tybee Island. Love your blog. Margie

  15. So sorry about the ribs at the GA PIG...we both had the pulled pork sandwich and it was great as you said. Tell Odel we owe him a better recommendation someday to make up for his gristle ribs. Sharon and Allan