Oh Susanna... A Taste of the Old South in Savannah

Posted by Cindy Clarke on 9/19/2013
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Food, USA

Culinary celebrities describe southern cooking as “hospitality on a plate” alluding to the abundance of comfort food you’ll find on menus in the south. Accomplished chefs like Savannah’s own “caterer to the stars,” Susan Mason, author of the Silver Service cookbook, have created a banquet of recipes that make mouths water, unbidden, at the mere mention of their down home recipes. Think grits, a mainstay of the southern diet, buttermilk biscuits with gravy, she-crab soup and fried chicken that only southern cooks have mastered, and you’ll be in the right food aisle. And forget counting calories. We’re talking pure indulgence here, with taste trumping will power in every bite.

savannah fountain 

I had the good fortune of spending a few days in Savannah recently, going back in time to a place where gentility is fanned by gentle, always temperate, breezes and manners are rooted in traditions of grace and glory. Dressed in American history and draped in Spanish moss, Savannah is awash in cobblestone charms, antebellum mansions and gardens full and fragrant that make the city eye candy all by itself. Art, in all its incarnations, takes center stage in this proud Southern town, adding to the cultural feast showcased here. You’ll find fine prints and priceless antiques from yesteryear in shops tucked along park-like squares and colorful artwork designed yesterday by the students and staff at the Savannah College of Art and Design who sell their work in an interesting school-owned boutique unlike anyplace else.

You can stroll down streets your eyes walked first in films like Forest Gump or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You can wander in wonder in museums, cemeteries and squares – 22 of them – dating back centuries, and you can ride trolleys and horse-drawn carriages past stately homes, parks and landmarks that chronicle the city’s storied past from the Revolutionary and Civil wars. And while you may cover a lot of ground – and history – during your explorations, you won’t go hungry.

Aptly nicknamed the “Hostess City,” it is no surprise that Savannah is home to some of the South’s best dining experiences, from its restaurants, bistros and bars to chef-hosted affairs that shine the spotlight on elegant southern fare, with recipes passed down and refined through the generations.

mason food

Parties are a favorite pastime in Savannah, both inside gracious dining rooms and outdoors in beautiful springtime gardens abloom with flowering azaleas. Brunch and picnic menus often boast chilled corn soup with lobster, sweet succulent oysters, locally harvested, and roasted to perfection. Savannah red rice, fried chicken, ham sweet potato biscuits and jalapeño cornbread often follow, with traditional favorites like Georgia peach cobbler with blueberries, peach ice cream and pecan praline bars sweetening the line up.

Along with its elite mansions, Savannah has a number of intimate inns that are perfect for elegant dinner parties that are staged in a homey setting. Evening menus may include old-time favorites like Corn Pudding, Rice and Peas, Fried Green Tomatoes, Jumbo Lump Crabmeat and Beef Tenderloin with Madeira Sauce, all Savannah staples that you may find at a number of great eateries all over the city.

Susan MasonI have always maintained that the people you meet are the true gems of a memorable travel experience and my introduction to Savannah celebrity, Susan Mason, was no exception. Sought after as much for her mastery of elegant Southern cooking as her Auntie-Mame-meets-Southern-Belle personality, Susan is a frequent guest chef on the Food Network, and coveted caterer to movie stars like Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck – and TV’s Paula Deen, the most famous doyenne of down-home southern cooking, who frequently hires Susan to cater her special dinner parties. She epitomizes the quintessentially glamorous Southern hostess, setting a table that is inviting, pretty and always decked out with fresh flowers, heirloom silver, good china and crystal treasures reminiscent of the halcyon plantation days of the Old South – and enticing with delicious regional cuisine. Seeing a new destination through the eyes of an insider is the best way to feel like a local and have authentic experiences you might miss on your own.

So where does Savannah’s ultimate party hostess go to be wined and dined? Here are a few of Susan Mason’s favorite haunts:

Best Taste of Savannah – Pinkhouse; The Perch at Local 11ten Food & Wine; Leocis

Best Seafood – Mathews Seafood

Best Traditional Southern Cooking – Miss Wilkes Boarding House

Best Desserts – Garabaldis

Best Historic Ambiance Where the Old South Lives On – Pinkhouse

Best Place to Wander Back in Time – Bull Street from the River to Forsyth Park

Best Place to Picnic – Forsyth Park

Best Place to People Watch – Forsyth Park
Best Recipe for a Traditional Savannah Meal

tomato pie smallSusan’s Tomato Pie
Serves 6-8

I served this at an out of town luncheon for a wedding when the groom was from New York City.  20 guests asked for the recipe and I envision all those tomato pies being served all over Manhattan.
1 9-inch shell, precooked and cooled
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  When pie shell has cooled, spread the pie crust with Dijon mustard.  Layer sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper and cheeses.  End with cheese.  For top layer, mix mayonnaise and parmesan cheese together, spread on top of pie and bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

Serve at room temperature.


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