‘Gator, grits and great Creole: Savannah, GA’s Alligator Soul Restaurant takes Southern cuisine to new heights
Savannah, GA’s rustic charm is just one of their glorious claims to fame. The friendly folks there may have actually helped coin the ubiquitous term “southern hospitality.” The sleepy little town moves along at its own unhurried pace – reminiscent of slow-moving molasses.
But historic Savannah is also a foodie’s paradise. And while there are plenty of touristy restaurants sprinkled throughout the city, the locals always have the best insight on where to dine.
Mentioning three different restaurant choices to our Uber driver caused him to shake his head in disdain. “You want a spot that wraps the South up in a nice little bow? Then you want Alligator Soul”, he cajoled. And before you could say shrimp and grits, his car pulled up to an unassuming storefront. Turns out the restaurant is found down a semi-steep flight of stairs – tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city center. Once a basement grain warehouse, this intimate Southern eatery in Savannah’s Telfair Square prides itself on an eclectic menu of organic & local ingredients. It’s a rare case of an underground restaurant setting created with style, flair and a bit of panache.
“Oh, yes,” confirmed owner Maureen Craig. “We are blessed to have a strong following -- by both locals and tourists -- as a must-go-to while in Savannah.”
The first good sign? There was a healthy wait … at 9:40pm … on a Saturday night. Hint -- best not to mention you don’t have reservations lest you want the hostess to look at you like an uninformed, three-headed Yankee. (Mind you, they’re open daily for dinner at 5:30pm and close at 10pm.) The second good sign? Everybody – patrons, servers, bar staff -- appeared to be in a jovial mood despite a hectic late-evening rush.
Alligator Soul Restaurant is famed for their innovative Cajun Creole cuisine. “My husband Hilary Craig was raised with a Creole nanny who taught (him) most everything he knows about this food … and Gospel music,” said Craig. True to form, most everything on their flavorful menu has varying degrees of both richness and spiciness.
In a word -- hallelujah.
“Most of my inspiration comes from working with the ingredients,” said Executive Chef Stephen McClain. “We are incredibly fortunate to have so many local farms, dairies, and a bountiful coastline close to us. It really makes my job pretty easy to just showcase all of these wonderful ingredients as fresh as possible.”
For the hearty, try “The Little Hilbo” -- 16 to 18 ounces of grass fed grilled rib-eye finished with house made demi-glace and bourbon peppercorn cream sauce. It’s considered by many to be the best steak in town. “The Oysters A La Soul is one of my recipes that has truly become a signature dish at Alligator Soul,” said McClain. “We sell out almost every night!” And keeping in line with its namesake – be sure to start with their legendary Alligator Fritters appetizer. “We sell about 300 a week,” said McClain.
The decadent wine list and cocktail menu is expansive, but it can’t hold court to Alligator Soul’s blood-sugar spiking desserts. Their handcrafted sweets are a rare blend of comfort food and high-end pastries. Two words: Banana Beignets. Two more: save room.
Craig McClain and crew take pride in their menu, but are even more grateful for their ever-present clientele. (Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon and Ben Affleck among the crème de la heavy crème.)
Any guesses why Alligator Soul is so popular? “I would like to believe it's our level of service and commitment to our guests,” mentioned Craig. “They always come first. Not the owner, chef, or server comes before our guests.”
And remember – you can’t spell “so popular” without soul.
Alligator Soul Restaurant, 114 Barnard St, Savannah, GA 31401, USA
Other places of interest:
- A Christmas on the River - 219 W River St, Savannah. Xmas may only come once a year, but it’s the holidays all year long at this festive shoppe. Lots of kitschy, handmade Savannah-centric ornaments are available. If shiny things easily distract you – this is not the place for you.
- Savannah History Museum - 303 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Savannah. Sure you can immerse yourself in all things Savannah, but to understand the city’s history you have to get its back-story. This is the quintessential place to become an informed tourist. And you can also see the famous bench from “Forrest Gump” – also shot in Savannah.
- Byrd Cookie Company – 6700 Waters Ave, Savannah. Got a sweet tooth? Byrd’s has been serving up their legendary teeny-tiny, bite-size cookies since 1924. Now you can see where it all began. Even better? Free samples as well as several gluten-free options. Bring your insulin.