Savannah’s culinary scene is inextricably linked with Paula Deen, the slightly wild-eyed Empress of Butterfat whose culinary stylings wage gleeful warfare against the forces of heart-healthy diets and tempeh. This means that tourists in Savannah almost invariably find themselves washing up at Deen’s flagship “The Lady and Son’s” restaurant, reveling in dishes that involve a pound and a half of sour cream–and that’s after plating.
But contrary to popular international opinion, Southern cuisine actually isn’t all about butter, cream, and eventual artery explosion. The history of the Southern table is rooted in fresh and local ingredients, and some young chefs—even here in Savannah—are exploring the possibilities of farm to table food, right in the dragon’s den of caloric, ever-so-slightly trashy delights.
That’s the philosophy driving 22 Square, a new farm to table restaurant in downtown Savannah, located in the new Anchaz hotel. Shed all your perceptions about hotel restaurants: this place is a real find.
The menu, put together by new chef Lauren Teague, focuses on local ingredients readily found around Savannah’s temperate climes. Dishes are listed by ingredient and not by course, meaning that pork belly, oysters, and local preserves (for example) all have 3 or 4 dishes listed underneath them, ranging from appetizers to entrees. It’s an unusual format that lends itself well to exploration and sharing, though you can go the conventional route if you must.
Teague is a Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park graduate and brings a stylish aplomb to her food: it’s Southern, all right, but not of the slapped-on-the-plate variety. Portion sizes are eminently reasonable, and the prices are perfectly manageable as well—a boon in a tourist town that’s experiencing no small amount of culinary inflation.
22 Square prides itself on working with local farmers, and that’s reflected in this deceptively simple vegetable plate ($7), incorporating produce from nearby Walker Farm. Served with a garlicky and good hummus dip, the plate comes with simple sliced seasonal vegetables (including some remarkable yellow carrots), pickled specialties (fantastic haricorts verts) and a couple of creamy, delicate deviled eggs. Making a crudites plate interesting is a helluva feat: Chef …. pulls it off.
A special appetizer, these twice-baked Bluffton, South Carolina oysters were served in a new potato, then topped off with breadcrumbs for a reasonable $10. There was a bit of detectable curry in there, and the whole affair reminded me of a very high-end sports bar snack. A bit starchy for my tastes—but an interesting combination. 22 Square rotates out oyster preparations daily.Crispy Brooklet, Georgia pork belly with brussel sprouts, pumpkin ravioi, and pork jus ($17) was a surprisingly delicate dish, with an interesting broth that cried out for a spoon. I liked the earthy, extremely seasonal combination of brussel sprouts and freshly made, not-too-sweet pumpkin ravioli. When combined with the fatty pork (seasoned with just a little 5-spice powder), it was something like a very sophisticated look at breakfast flavors.
Hunter Cattle Company grass-fed beef oxtail with with sun-dried tomato polenta cake and buttered veal gloss ($13) was rich, meaty, and a bit messy—as an oxtail should be. A small enough portion to be comfortably shared, the meat was nice and tender, and the veal “gloss” had a pleasingly intense flavor. The polenta cake was a bit too intensively oily for my tastes—I might suggest an interesting mashed potato variant for me.
House made raspberry preserves with local cheeses and berries ($14). Included an excellent Irish-style sharp cheddar and crackerbread, as well as those delightful pickled carrots and haricorts verts. No, I didn’t write down the cheeses. I rarely remember to write down the cheeses. It is my curse. However, some of the Savannah cheesemakers are linked here.
Don’t miss the cocktail list. 22 Square’s Manhattan, constructed by Food and Beverage manager Garron Gore wins contests—largely due to Gore’s use of a totally surprising hickory-smoked maraschino cherry in the brew. We kept on delicately requesting more from the back, and we go em’. My dad is hoping to figure out how to do this himself, to use that distinctive, sweet-and-hickory flavor as a dip for BBQ ribs.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Manhattan, a slightly sweet, robust mixture that was something like a very adult, complex, swig of alcoholic Coca Cola. I also tried a cocktail with peach, mint, and bourbon, which was—remarkably enough—not particularly sweet, a real boon for someone curiously born sans sweet tooth. My mom enjoyed a pitch-perfect gin and tonic with house-made soda.