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Attempt To Veg Out: Savannah, GA

November 15, 2011

Michelle, my tour guide, said that despite the crazy drivers, historic downtown Savannah is best seen by foot. So I looked both ways, and I walked:

Around the fountain in Forsyth Park,

The Olde Pink Housepast The Olde Pink House,

and under the spires at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

It was my first time visiting the South. I stared at it, bleary-eyed, like I’d had one too many mint juleps. I staggered and lingered too long. Where I grew up, identical houses are packaged in neat subdivisions, and hardly anything was built before 1980. From the air, the place looks like a super-sized blister pack of Dentyne Ice. Downtown Savannah, by contrast, is in one of the largest historic landmark districts in the United States. It’s arranged in a grid around a series of 22 squares, including Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump sat on a park bench.

The site of the Owens-Thomas House includes one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South, and the First African Baptist Church was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Savannah is also rumored to be haunted. Ghost tours of of the area abound, but you could not pay me to go on one. I have such an overactive imagination, I would have nightmares for weeks. Here’s just a taste: Savannah’s squares are lined with live oak trees that drip with Spanish Moss. They have a symbiotic relationship, with the trees lifting the moss away from predators and closer to the light. But on four particular trees in Wright Square, no moss grows. Per Michelle, Wright Square used to be Courthouse Square, which means the gallows used to be there.

I know, right? Shudder! I think I need to spend a few minutes browsing Obsessive Corgi Disorder just to get that information out of my mind. Also, here are some pictures of a corgi dressed as a lobster.

O.K. that’s better. Where was I? I should note that The Olde Pink House is Michelle’s favorite restaurant in Savannah, and it looks like they have a vegetarian entrée. For drinks, The New York Times recommends Planters Tavern, a bar in the basement of the restaurant.

I cannot recommend either because I did not get to go to either. I totally botched planning our meals in Savannah. Most of the well known places were already booked because the Savannah Rock & Roll Marathon was in town, and my pre-trip research didn’t turn up anything particularly veggie-friendly. But I figured there must be vegetarians in town, and I just needed to find them.

In the meantime, I had more walking to do. And by walking I mean shopping, at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Shop (above), Trunk 13, and One Fish Two Fish.

After I shopped, I walked some more. And then I started getting hungry. Must find food, I thought. I walked past The Lady & Sons and went to The Paula Deen Store next door. At this establishment they sell many things that will make you question the order of the universe, including (1) A pre-grease-stained T-shirt that announces, “This is my eatin’ shirt,” and (2) Paula Deen butter-flavored lip balm. But it was kind of fun to see. (Side note: Did you see the episode of The Nate Berkus Show where two PD superfans competed to win a trip to Savannah, and they had to fish Paula Deen Heads out of a huge vat of grits? I know, I know. Go to this store. It will give you some closure.)

After that, I walked past the First Girl Scout Headquarters. Contrary to what I thought were quite reasonable expectations, there were no Thin Mint Dispensers. In fact, there were no cookie dispensers of any kind. But I did learn that in Girl Scouts, Brownies are called Brownies because Juliette Gordon Low’s house is cream-colored with brown shutters. I could have walked there to take a tour, but I was too hungry. Butter … grits … thin mints … brownies … cream … must find food …

I thought about hopping on a bus, but then I saw it was called the Cat Shuttle, and I changed my mind. Some say that CAT stands for “Chatham Area Transit.” I say it stands for  “Proudly operated by Toonces The Driving Cat.” Juvenile laughter wastes precious energy. Must find food. A handful of that Spanish Moss might tide me over …

And then, as if aided by friendly ghosts of hungry travelers past, I found Leopold’s.

Honey almond & cream for lunch. Crisis averted.

Things were looking up in the food department. Jules and I stopped at a farm stand on our way to Tybee Island, and I finally tried boiled peanuts. Jules’s brother, who’s a chef, grilled fresh veggies for dinner one night. I had fried green tomatoes for the first time, and Jules and I did a honey tasting at a Savannah Bee Company store. We picked up a bottle of tupelo honey, a honey “blend” made to pair with cheese, and … are you sitting down? A honey pump. It’s a pump for the honey jar, so honey doesn’t drip down the sides and harden and permanently adhere the jar to your kitchen counter. Or my kitchen counter. Wonders will truly never cease.

One afternoon, we had pizza on the patio at Vinnie Van GoGo’s. The crust was crisp, the toppings were fresh, the price was right, and the menus were awesome. They were so old, they were almost translucent. They explained the subtle difference between “toppings” and “yuppie toppings.” My grease-laden beauty also had a diagram of a pizza slice scribbled on it, and someone had triple-circled the toppings section, as if to say, “If one more idiot asks me what toppings we have when they are right there on the menu I swear I will LOSE IT.” Y’all come back now!

Jules stayed in Savannah a few days longer than me. He had dinner at Alligator Soul, which serves Southern food and offers a vegetarian “tasting course entrée.” He e-mailed me detailed notes. He wanted me to tell you that it was not a tasting menu, but more like a collection of sides (sweet potato quinoa, braised kale with cranberry relish, and asparagus) that all came on the same plate. He did thoroughly enjoy his cocktail and the house salad with figs and “fried cheese!!!!!!”

Jules also had this roasted red pepper and mozzarella sandwich at the Back in the Day Bakery, which came highly recommended by a baker friend of his who lives in Savannah.

Back In The Day Bakery
Pumpkin Crunch at Back In The Day

The bakery is a little bit outside of historic downtown. You could drive there, or maybe take the Cat Shuttle. I think even Toonces might be able to stay on the road, if he knew he was driving toward this slice of pumpkin crunch.

Did I miss any great veggie-friendly places in Savannah? Jules ate ravioli at Blue Turtle Bistro and a veggie burger at the Green Truck Pub, but didn’t write home about them. I checked out the menu at Local 11 Ten, but we couldn’t get a reservation. I’d love to hear your recommendations.

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