Thursday, March 29, 2018

Savannah in the Spring

What do you get when you mix four great girlfriends, one sexy southern port city, a giant St. Patrick's Day parade, a stately old home, thousands of showy azaleas, and hundreds of gnarly, twisting live oaks dripping in lazy, gray Spanish moss with equal amounts of history, food, art, architecture, shopping and non-stop laughter? Oh, and one towed car? You get a memorable trip to Savannah in the spring, of course!

Here's Our Itinerary:
Day 1...Drive to Savannah, check in to our rooms, eat dinner at Cotton and Rye, unwittingly park on               St. Patrick's Day parade route
Day 2...Realize car has been towed, breakfast at Maté Factor, St. Patrick's Day Parade, walk around                 historic district, fetch car, Bonaventure Cemetery, dinner at The Olde Pink House
Day 3...Visit Tybee Island, lunch at CoCo's Sunset Grille, Forsythe Park, dinner at Pirates' House,                   Haunted Ghost Tour
Day 4...Breakfast at B. Matthews, visit Savannah City Market, Riverfront, Wormsloe Plantation, eat                 dinner at Pearl's Saltwater Grille, ice cream at Leopold's
Day 5...Head back home, stop in Douglasville for lunch at Gumbeaux's Cajun Cafe
Day 1...Let's Get Started!

Merri, Julie and I met up with Lu in Ft. Payne where we left her car. It seems like it had been forever since we had seen her, so we had lots of catching up to do. Even the long drive across Georgia seemed short as we laughed and told stories, some of which we will probably deny. We also made plans. Merri had been in charge of making our room reservations, we were driving Julie's car, I was assigned the task of making dinner reservations and Lu's job, in addition to helping Merri drive, was to get to Ft. Payne by 9 am instead of noon. We had to do some encouraging to make that happen. As we crossed into the Eastern time zone, we lost an hour which put us arriving in Savannah by 6 pm. With dinner reservations at 7, we needed to hustle and noon was not going to get it. As it turned out, Lu actually beat us to Fort Payne and we were on our way by 9:30. Not too bad! 

George Baldwin House

We were stunned when we actually got a glimpse of our home away from home. It was a mansion! The red brick Queen Anne home known as the George Baldwin house sits on the corner of Lincoln and Hall Streets in Savannah's Victorian District. To say that it is imposing would not be doing justice to the beautiful old home. Built in 1887, the towers, chimneys and crowning cornices make the home look like more like a castle than a house. The deep red brick stands out on a street lined with magnificent old mansions. 

The gate to our courtyard

Our rooms in the mansion were on the street level with a semi-private courtyard. We unloaded our car and wheeled our suitcases past a creaky garden gate, into our new digs. There was nothing fancy or modern about our rooms. There were no televisions, but we did have wifi. We also had a kitchen stocked with basic utensils and appliances and two bedrooms, but only one bathroom. The bathroom was located in the bedroom into which Lu and I settled and there were curtains instead of doors in the doorways of the bedrooms. This setup was perfect for us, but might not work for two married couples or people who have to have modern amenities. The Hyatt Regency it was not, but we loved it! We especially loved the location. We were right in the heart of everything! More about that later. 

We unpacked and had just enough time to make our dinner reservation at Cotton and Rye, which I chose because it was near our mansion and it had really good reviews.
The modern, industrial look restaurant is one of Savannah's newer establishments. We were quickly seated and given menus when we arrived. Here's a tip. Make your dinner reservations before your trip. We did not have to wait one single time to be seated during our entire stay in Savannah. It gave us lots more time to do other things.

We began with drinks. Merri had a blood orange margarita, Julie had a thyme lemonade, I had the best amaretto sour I've ever had in my life and Lu, in a strange twist of personalities, just had water. For dinner, Merri, Julie and I had salads of mixed lettuces, grapes, pecans, cornbread croutons, blue cheese and pickled red onion with a bacon sorghum vinaigrette and shrimp and grits. Lu went with mussels with confit fennel, melted leeks, pickled fennel, andouille, tomatoes, fermented Serrano hot sauce and grilled rye and a side of Brussels sprouts. Then, we all shared a dessert of bread pudding made with north Georgia apples, swimming in a vanilla anglaise. Other than my amaretto sour, my favorites were our salads, Lu's mussels and, of course, that bread pudding. I am surprised at how much I liked the mussels. It was a delicious meal and we will definitely go back to Cotton and Rye.




We left the restaurant and headed back to our home away from home. As we parked our car, we didn't see the tiny 'No Parking Because of Parade Route' paper nailed to a power pole. It was dark! We didn't know, but we would soon find out.


Day 2...Happy St. Patrick's Day or Hey, Julie, Where's Your Car?

I was the first one dressed and out the door the next morning. I know all my friends won't believe this, but it is true! Imagine my surprise to find out we were directly on the parade route and the Budweiser Clydesdales were standing right outside our door! I was so excited, I failed to notice what was not right outside our door...our car. Julie was the first to realize her car was missing and that is when we saw the tiny sign. I asked a couple of people in official parade attire where our car might have been towed and how to get it back. They directed me to talk to some of the police milling around the parade sidelines. 


The first one I approached had a huge badge and I was just sure he could help and he said he sure could...if we were in New York! He was with a group of New York policemen and some Scottish bagpipe players from the Empire State. I milled around with the parade participants before finding a local policeman who pointed us in the direction of the police station. We decided there was no big hurry to get the car since we had nowhere to park it at the moment, so we did what any self-respecting southern girls would do. 

Patio at Maté Factor

We looked for a place to eat breakfast! Lucky for us, breakfast was just steps away at a little neighborhood bakery called Maté Factor. It was billed as a wholesome bakery which did give us pause, but we went in anyway. We need not have worried. Everyone got some kind of sweet pastry or bread, but me. I knew if I didn't have some protein I would never make it, so I got a turkey sandwich. It was all good and put us in the mood to do some exploring. The parade was getting ready to start, so we headed back to our house. The crowds were so thick we decided, rather than jockey for space along the street, we would wander around the neighborhood, paying a little attention to the parade, but mostly checking out the houses and flowers. 

We were dying to get a peek into the main part of our little home away from home, the George Baldwin house, so Julie, who puts me up to stuff, talked me into asking some guys we saw standing on the porch if we could see the house. To our surprise, they let us in. It turns out they were employed by the owner of the home. As we were meandering through the front parlor, gasping at the original leaded bottle glass windows and thick, ornate crown moldings, we were greeted by an elderly gentlemen and his caregiver. He introduced himself as Alvin Neely, the owner, and proceeded to give us some the history of the house. Mr. Neely's eyes sparkled with mischief as he informed us that George Baldwin, who built the house in 1887, was a carpetbagger from Massachusetts. We were all happy to learn that Mr. Neely, who bought the home in 1974, was a retired educator, so we shared a few "teacher stories". We thanked him for opening his home to us, promised to be good guests and scampered back outside to admire the other homes in the neighborhood, all the while catching occasional sightings of the parade going on all around us. 

Waiting for our Uber ride from the Savannah police station

When the parade ended, we decided to end our walking tour of the Victorian district and try to find Julie's car. That's how we ended up at the police station. $125 and one Uber driver fee later, we were on our way to the scariest part of Savannah ever. Even our Uber driver said she had never been to the place where our car had been towed. As we pulled up to the seedy old lot, strewn with rusting automobile parts and junk of all kinds, we were a little skeptical. Had they dismantled Julie's car and sold it for parts? Also, behind a gate we glimpsed a huge pit bull who did not sound at all happy that we were there. Wisely, Merri and I chose Julie and Lu to go check out the situation while we waited in the car with the driver. As we watched from the safety of the car, with the motor still running in case we needed to make a speedy get away, Merri and I saw Lu and Julie disappear behind a gate which had been opened by a rough looking old man sporting quite a large belly. It was several minutes before the trio reemerged from the trailer. All this time, I am wondering where the heck that giant dog had gone.

After Merri and I bid our faithful Uber driver adieu and hopped back into Julie's car, our brave girls told us the rest of the story. The dog's name was Marley. As Lu said, Marley was a misnomer.  Cujo was more like it. Anyway, our gatekeeper put Marley in the back of the trailer and invited our two intrepid girls in. That's when they realized the host had been watching movies that weren't really fit for mixed company, or any company, for that matter. As if things couldn't get any worse. Seeing what was on the television, the girls were even more anxious to get the heck out of that trailer. Merri and I were just as glad that we had stayed in the Uber car!

Bonaventure Cemetery
On our way back to civilization, we decided to take a detour through Bonaventure Cemetery. Our goal at Bonaventure was to find the bird girl from the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. After driving all over the cemetery and seeing no sign of Wendy, the Bird Girl, we did what we should have done to begin with. Google. That's when we found out the Bird Girl had been removed from the cemetery to the Jepson Center for the Arts. So we didn't see Bird Girl, but the cemetery was resplendent with blooming azaleas and dogwoods. If you haven't seen azaleas so big they tower over your head and huge dogwoods dripping in Spanish moss, you are missing an amazing sight. 


Our dinner reservations were for The Olde Pink House and we were excited. Just as we were getting back to our rooms to get ready for dinner, Luanne and Julie had the brilliant idea to run by the police station to pay the parking ticket associated with the towing, a little bill we didn't know about until we picked up the car. Anyway, Merri and I suggested they drop us off at the room and we could get ready and be finished using our one bathroom by the time they returned. We figured this would be a more efficient use of our time. Wrong. As it turned out, Julie and Lu went to two different places only to find out everything was closed. Then they got stuck in traffic. It was almost time for our dinner reservation when they called and suggested we would be able to walk to them faster than they could drive to us. So off Merri and I go, clopping along in our not made for walking shoes, trying desperately to get an Uber driver and contact the restaurant to tell them we would be late, but not being able to get through to either. Julie and Lu ended up parking the car by the time we met up with them, but we were still a good distance from the restaurant and had no idea if they would hold our reservation for us. Luckily they did or we might have fallen apart. We were four bedraggled and hungry sistahs by the time we were seated in the beautiful dining room at The Olde Pink House. 


We decided we deserved some cocktails, so Merri got a Pink Lady of lemonade and Absolute vodka, Lu had Planter's Punch and Julie and I played it safe with amaretto sours. While we relaxed, we looked around the beautiful dining room and studied the menu. 


After much discussion, Luanne and I decided to share a couple of appetizers of blackened oysters and southern sushi. We also each got a bowl of she crab soup. The southern sushi was smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut crusted nori and the oysters were topped with watermelon relish, pear and apricot chutney and green tomato chow chow. Delicious!


Merri and Julie shared almond encrusted tilapia, grits and green beans, fried green tomatoes with bacon and sweet corn cream and mac and cheese jalapeño poppers with red pepper coulis and salsa verde. Of all our entrees, the oysters were my favorite. 

Then we shared two desserts, a praline basket with ice cream and fruit and some strawberry gelato. I think the praline basket was the one we all liked best. 

I'd say our first full day in Savannah was a success even though our car was towed. We had peeked inside the George Baldwin house, got our car back without being mauled by an angry pit bull, and made it to The Olde Pink House without losing our reservations. I did have one big blister on my toe from our speed walk to dinner. We went to bed wondering what the next day would have in store.

Day 3...Change of Plans, Let's Go to Tybee!

The one thing we know for sure, weather in Savannah is no more predictable than weather in Alabama. We originally planned to go to Tybee on Monday, but the weather reports were looking sketchy and we are nothing if not flexible, so we switched our plans and decided to go to Tybee on Sunday instead. We weren't completely sure what to expect on Tybee, so we googled, of course. We discovered there were a couple of lighthouses and some shops that we might like to check out. We had originally talked about staying on Tybee and driving into Savannah. The traffic on the little island and the fact that there is so much more to do in Savannah made us glad we decided to stay in downtown Savannah. Staying on Tybee would probably be great if you were just going to the beach, but we had so much more we wanted to do. 

Our first order of business on Tybee was to find a place for lunch. We found a little shack called CoCo's Sunset Grille which had good reviews and we decided to give it a try. Good call! As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we knew this was our kind of place. It reminded us of The Blue Crab in New Orleans that we had loved so much. Another good indication that we had chosen well was the sign announcing that the shrimp at CoCo's come straight from their own docks. How's that for fresh?

We sashayed on in with high hopes. We were seated at a window overlooking the aforementioned docks and started making some hard decisions. Finally, we came up with a plan. Merri and Julie split a shrimp salad sandwich and onion rings. You will not see a picture of their meal here, because they tucked into it before I could get one and by the time Luanne remembered to photograph, the plates were a mess! Merri did say it was her favorite meal of the entire trip. Luanne and I split the shrimp dinner with grilled and fried shrimp, onion rings, slaw and a shrimp cake. It was all delicious. The shrimp was super fresh, as advertised and the shrimp cake was really superb. I think I liked it better than crab cakes and that is saying a lot. 

But the pearl in the oyster, the diamond in the crown, the finishing touch? The fried strawberries we had for dessert. They were amazing! The best way I can think of to describe them is to imagine strawberries in a donut or beignet ball, fried, sprinkled with crunchy sugar, drizzled with strawberry cream and served with whipping cream. Heaven help us! If you can only get one thing at CoCo's, make it the fried strawberries. Don't argue about this.

Fully fortified and, yes, needing to get out and walk off some calories, we got back in the car and started searching for lighthouses. We quickly discovered one of them, the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, was only accessible by boat, so we headed to the other, the Tybee Island Lighthouse. We chose not to take the lighthouse tour, but we got a good look at the outside. 

Next up, we headed to check out some cute shops we had spied on our way to the lighthouse. While we were there, we even met a photographer who formerly worked for WHNT in Huntsville. Small world. 


With eating, lighthouses and shopping out of the way, we decided to drive around Tybee and check out some of the cute beach cottages. We explored for a while and then decided to head back to Savannah. The traffic was bad. You folks who visit Gulf Shores will sympathize. It's an island, and in this case, there is one way in, one way out. We finally made it back to Savannah and back to our rooms to get ready for dinner. We had reservations at the Pirates' House and we didn't want to be late this time. 

The view from our table at Pirate's House

The Pirates' House is a must see for anyone visiting Savannah for the first time. A portion of the historic old building was built in 1734, making it the oldest standing building in the state of Georgia. The original structure, the Herb House, has been added on to many times. The Pirates' House now has 15 dining rooms and can serve up to 120 guests at a time. 

Probably the star of our dinner at Pirates' House was Luanne's shrimp and grits. It was unusual with lots of smoky andouille sausage. Merri, Julie and I all had salads, Merri and I added fried green tomatoes and Julie added she crab soup. We skipped dessert because we had plans to stop by Leopold's for ice cream, but as we have seen, plans can change. It was all good and we enjoyed our meal at Pirates' House. 

As we were eating dinner, we decided, well, three of us decided, we needed to take a ghost tour of Savannah. We had do use our powers of persuasion to talk Merri into going with us, but she eventually conceded. We went back to the room to change clothes and get ready for our midnight tour.

We really hoped we had booked a riding tour, but no. As we met up with our tour group, we learned we were going on a walking tour. While we had dodged rain most of the day, the closer it got to our tour, the more it looked like rain and we, lulled into complacency by our good luck, had left umbrellas and raincoats back at our room. Yeah, we got wet. I should say, Julie, Lu and I got wet, because Merri suddenly became bosom buddies with another member of our tour group who happened to have an umbrella.

Our ghostly tour guide


The scariest spot on our ghost walk, The Sorrell Weed House. The floating door you see here supposedly led to the room of a slave named, Molly, who was murdered by her evil owner, who also may or may not have murdered his wife.

Savannah City Hall

While we didn't get very scared and we never made it to Leopold's, we did learn some history and some Savannah ghost stories. As our guide pointed out, Savannah is, arguably, the most haunted city in America and the city is literally built on the bones of its dead. Many of the sidewalks in the city are built right on top of graves. We enjoyed our tour, even though it was wet, and we got to see some of the most haunted spots in the city, including the Sorrell Weed House, the Marshall House, Colonial Park Cemetery and the Mercer House of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame.

It was a long day and we practically fell into bed when we got back to our rooms. We had to get rested up for our last full day in Savannah.

Bent, broken, twisted and fallen, but still alive!

Day 4...We Are Nothing If Not Flexible! Wormsloe, City Market, the Riverfront and Pearl's Saltwater Grille

Since we are all fans of Pat Conroy's books, while we were in Tybee, Julie and Lu got the idea to spend our last day taking a ferry to Daufuskie Island, SC, and touring the island by golf cart. Sounded like fun to Merri and me, so we made plans. Unfortunately, weather interfered and we got a message saying the ferry had been cancelled. By the time we cancelled our golf cart and made other plans, we were notified the ferry was back on. We decided to save the trip to Daufuskie for another time, but we were disappointed. 

Making the best of our change of plans, we added Wormsloe Plantation, the City Market and the Riverfront to our schedule. 

We started with breakfast at B. Matthews and then planned to drive to City Market for a little shopping. B. Matthews, on the corner of East Bay and Habersham Streets, is one of the oldest buildings in Savannah. Actually, no one really knows the true age of the building. The earliest documentation of the building is from 1791, when it was sold. When it was built is anyone's guess. It is believed to have been cobbled together from a previous building at the site and a sailing vessel that foundered in the harbor. The basement of the building has a tunnel which leads to the Savannah River. All along the wall of the basement are large iron rings where slaves were chained after they were smuggled in through the tunnel. Of course, this sad history means that, like many other buildings in Savannah, B. Matthews has its own share of ghosts. We had no idea of the history of the building as we sat down to eat, but we were impressed with the beautiful dining room and the food. 

This breakfast was called the Lamp Post, but it should have been called a Farmhand's Feast. It was huge.

Of course, No Sauce Lu got her hollandaise on the side.

Don't judge a book by its cover and don't judge this French toast by my photo. It got rave reviews.

Merri and I had something called the Lamp Post, which consisted of eggs, cheese grits, biscuits, gravy, hash browns and a choice of bacon, ham, sausage, or turkey-apple sausage. It was way too much and we should have shared a plate, but for some reason we didn't think of it. The biscuits and the cheese grits were my favorite. Lu got a fried green tomato Benedict that involved goat cheese. She really liked it and, I did, too, since she let me have a little bite. Julie's breakfast of French toast stuffed with coconut cream cheese and topped with raspberry coulis and candied almonds looked the least impressive, but she said it was divine and Merri concurred. I'm not sure why I failed to get a bite, but after hearing the accolades, I was sorry I hadn't snatched a sample. 

Cracked Earth WWII Memorial on the Riverfront

After breakfast, we checked out Juliet Gordon Lowe's Birthplace. Any former Girl Scouts will recognize her as the founder of the organization. Then we headed to the City Market, which is full of shops and restaurants. This is where you want to go for one of a kind art, made in Savannah souvenirs, homemade candy and the flavor of old Savannah. 

 Arched entrance and gate at Wormsloe

Beautiful avenue of live oaks at Wormsloe Plantation

From the City Market, we set out to find Wormsloe Plantation. We really had no idea what to expect at Wormsloe, except we knew from pictures, the avenue of Spanish moss adorned live oaks leading up to the plantation was something we didn't want to miss. They were even more spectacular in person than we imagined. We were surprised to learn the mile long avenue of oaks does not lead to a large mansion, however. There is a mansion at Wormsloe and the 9th generation of ancestors of Noble Jones, the founder of Wormsloe still live in the house but that part of the estate is private and not included in the $10 admission. The beautiful thoroughfare of oaks leads to the site of the original home at Wormsloe. What you will see when you get there are the ruins of the house which were made of tabby, a crude type of concrete made of sand, water, crushed oyster shells and lime.

Tabby ruins at Wormsloe

After exploring the grounds at Wormsloe, we realized it had been a while since our breakfast at B. Matthews. We decided to try to find something to eat nearby, so I started investigating. That's when I found out the area we were on was what is known as the Isle of Hope, a tiny slip of land surrounded by rivers, creeks, tidal inlets and the Intracoastal Waterway. A quick search pulled up a promising looking place called Pearl's Saltwater Grille. Aside from the fact that it had good reviews, I liked the name. Everyone else was on board when I mentioned hushpuppies with honey butter. 

As luck would have it, we waltzed right in and were immediately seated, just beating the evening dinner rush. A quick scan of the menu was being conducted when the aforementioned hushpuppies arrived at our table. In addition to hushpuppies and honey butter, the basket also included hot yeast rolls with herb butter. We enjoyed that bread basket. 

Julie chose honey fried chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Luanne selected shrimp nachos and Merri and I split a fried shrimp po'boy and sweet potato fries. We were very happy with our last minute dining choice. Once again, no dessert, because tonight, by golly, we were going to Leopold's!



We left Pearl's and set our sights for downtown Savannah. I needed to run into the Savannah Bee Company and we all needed to finally find Leopold's Ice Cream Parlor, so that's just what we did. 


Deciding which flavor of ice cream to choose was the most difficult decision of the entire trip. Luanne finally settled on a decadently creamy ginger ice cream, Julie got a boozy rum bisque and Merri and I couldn't resist the dark chocolate Savannah Socialite with bourbon caramel and roasted pecans. There were no bad choices here.  It was a sweet ending to our visit to Savannah. 

Day 5...Bye, Bye, Savannah, We Love You and One Last Hurrah at Gumbeaux's in Douglasville

The end came faster than we liked, but the real world was calling and we had to get back home. We are not ones, however, to let an opportunity pass us by, so when Luanne said she knew of a great place for lunch in Douglasville, we were all on board. We arrived in Douglasville, just 20 miles west of Atlanta, just in time for lunch and we all barreled in. After climbing about 3000 steep, steep steps to use the restroom at Gumbeaux's Cajun Cafe we were seated downstairs and Luanne began telling us what we needed to know about ordering. She wanted us all to try the bananas foster. She also recommended the gumbo. 

Merri was afraid of the seafood gumbo, because it had oysters, so she ended up with chicken and sausage gumbo. Luanne and I split a seafood gumbo and an oyster po'boy and Julie had jambalaya. Then we ordered a SMALL bananas foster to split four ways. I'm not sure why the thing was called small. It was huge! It came in a serving bowl on a dinner plate. I can't even imagine what the large bananas foster looks like. We were up to the task, however. We ate every bite and even got the last bits with straws. Gumbeaux's lived up to Luanne's hype. We were all stuffed and ready to finish up the last leg of the trip. Before leaving, Merri and Lu hiked back up Mount Everest to the restroom and told us they found an elevator but it was full of boxes. Then Julie and I reluctantly decided to make the hike, but changed our minds and decided to squeeze on that elevator, boxes and all. Just as we started to get on, one of the servers told us there was a restroom downstairs. Her words were, "We don't make y'all climb those stairs to go to the restroom!" Now you tell us!

It was an amazing trip, over too soon. We are already planning next year's adventure. Stay tuned!

Dang, that's good gumbo!

Oyster Po'boy and Cajun Fries

The biggest Bananas Foster, ever!

Good to the last drop!

Three Friends and a Fork
Three Friends and a Fork

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