Eat + Drink

The Soul of Savannah: Eating Well at Savannah’s Black-Owned Restaurants

After 11 years of living in New York City, food writer Nichelle Stephens was ready for a slower pace of life and cheaper rent. But her biggest fear was settling in a new city that didn’t have a great dining scene.

Thank goodness she moved to Savannah, Georgia.

When the noted blogger (her Cupcakes Take The Cake blog helped launch the cupcake craze a decade ago) moved here three years ago, she was pleasantly surprised to find a small Southern city full of affordable restaurants serving Southern fare made with the best ingredients — and even a few upscale restaurants worthy of national attention.

It also helps that Savannah has larger servings.

“Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but portions are always substantial,” Stephens said. “There are some places that are pricey, but you will get your money’s worth as far as food.”

The Savannah culinary scene can’t be dismissed, and of particular note is the fact that many of the city’s best restaurants are black-owned establishments. Stephens, who is African-American, makes an effort to support these restaurants, and these are a few of her favorites.

The Grey

savannah restaurants
Mashama Bailey of The Grey. (Photos: Quentin Bacon)

Maybe it's a Southern thing, but portions are always substantial.

Nichelle Stephens

Stephens recommends making a reservation at this popular Southern-eats restaurant as soon as travel plans are booked. If not, be ready to eat at the bar, which is still a memorable experience. African-American Chef Mashama Bailey is a partner in the restaurant, and she is at the top of her game.

Since The Grey opened in 2014, Bailey and the restaurant have amassed enough accolades for a lifetime: Bon Appetit Magazine’s 50 Best New Restaurants in 2015, 2017 Eater Restaurant of the Year, and a nomination for a James Beard Award chef of the year in 2018. If you end up at the bar, Stephens says to order the chicken schnitzel sandwich in the Diner Bar.

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Pickled oysters with fried fish skins and serrano peppers at The Grey. (Photo: Courtesy of The Grey)

Strong Provisions Roots

Matthew Raiford calls himself a “chefarmer” because he’s a Culinary Institute of America–trained chef who runs a farm in Brunswick, Georgia, a small town 80 miles south of Savannah. Gilliard Farms has been in his family since 1874; now it’s a one-stop shop for organic produce, cooking events, packaged food and even a dinner date.

Raiford and his partner, Jovan Sage, recently opened the Strong Roots Provision restaurant, and its motto is that “good food & community go hand in hand.” Locals love the cocktails. The small plates menu is divided into four parts: ocean (seafood), earth (vegetables), wind (poultry) and fire (meats).

Back in the Day Bakery

Cheryl and Griffith Day are self-taught bakers who, in their former lives, were a Soul Train dancer and rhythm and blues musician, respectively. They joined forces and opened Back in the Day in 2002. Now the bakery is considered the best in Savannah and has inspired several cookbooks (including a New York Times bestseller).

Stephens says to try the chess pie squares, brownies and cupcakes. The bakery also offers biscuits with fillings of your choice, including bacon, eggs and jam.

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Biscuits are a Southern classic. (Photo: Getty Images)

Eating at Sisters of the New South is like eating at Grandma's house.

Sisters of the New South

Owner Vicky Brown often says eating at Sisters of the New South is like eating at Grandma’s house. The restaurant specializes in Southern soul food classics like oxtail, fried chicken, collard greens, candied yams and macaroni and cheese — all for an affordable price.

Narobia’s Grits & Gravy

Stephens recommends starting out with breakfast at this downtown joint, which is only open for breakfast and lunch. It’s also possible to get a breakfast or lunch to go and eat it in one of Savannah’s many parks.

The restaurant’s unassuming exterior belies the greatness of the food; it is known for having the best Southern breakfast in town. The most popular dishes are the chicken biscuits, smothered shrimp over grits, pancakes and crab cakes.

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Shrimp and grits stick to your bones. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tricks BBQ

Tricks serves roadside barbecue — meat cooked in a pit alongside the road. It’s a family-owned restaurant that has been around for more than a generation. There is no place to sit down to eat, but that doesn’t stop people from getting the plates to go.

Say Hey’s & Mary

This sports bar leans toward the grown-up and sexy — that is, people over the age of 30. The neighborhood, Starland District, is quickly gentrifying, and many of its longtime black-owned businesses are being pushed out in the process, but Say Hey’s & Mary has survived. The pours are strong, and they go well with the kitchen’s fried chicken gizzards.