Many Savannah tourists find themselves at the end of a well trod path, waiting hours in line with other well-intentioned folks to enter "Momma and Her Boys" Southern eatery. (Not the real name, cause here in the South, we don't slander our elders nor our local celebrities.) Like knee socks with Bermuda shorts and a long-lensed Canon about the neck, don't fall into this tourist trap. The line leads only to disappointment and mediocre food.
If you came to rub shoulders with Miss Paula, head on over to Wilmington Island, where she is more readily found than in her restaurant. But, if what you're hankering for is some good ol' southern cooking, follow me five blocks south to The Pirate's House on East Broad.
From real-life shanghais to underground rum running tunnels, there is a wealth of pirate legacy to be discovered at The Pirate's House, but the real treasure is the food. Famous in its own right (but without all that FoodNetwork publicity) and conveniently located at the beginning or end of a jaunt down River Street, (depending on the day's parking situation) lunch at The Pirate's House incorporates itself nicely within a day's activities.
Whether you're at the start or finish of your cobblestone journey, you'll find a bounty fit for satisfyin' or energizin' during The Plantation Buffet. (11:30a-3:00p) For around $14 you can fill your plate with the equivalent of an entire chicken, deep fried and glazed in a honey pecan sauce so good your momma's face will hurt before she's been slapped, then wash the whole thing down with a pitcher of sweet iced tea and start on a second chicken. But pace yourself cause we've only just begun. Leave room on that plate for the macaroni & cheese, collard greens, squash casserole, green beans, sweet potatoes and barbeque ribs. Oh! and don't forget to save room for the nanna puddin'.
There are other fixins to be had, but I can only speak as to what goes on my own plate, and then, only with my mouth full, cause it's all so good.
If you'd have told me when I was a child that someday I would go back for second (and sometimes third) helpings of any sort of squash, I would have told you to shut your mouth. (Not really. I was raised to know better!) But, thank goodness for the wisdom that comes with age. We aren't talking about the squishy squash and soggy saltine casserole concotion found at family reunions and church potlucks either. Made with chunks of squash that require you chew before swallowing, the dish is pure, edible gold. Is it any wonder the spirits of pirates past are believed to still hang around the place?
I'm getting ahead of myself though, because before it was a hangout for blood thirsty pirates, it was settled as the Trustees' Garden in 1734. Old as the city itself, the plot of land was used as a proving ground for all sorts of botanical ventures and is indirectly to be thanked by pretty gals all over Georgia for favoring Peach trees over Mulberry.
The garden keeper's home is considered the oldest house in Georgia, and now functions as a private dining room called The Herb House. You can rent the room for a nominal fee and claim proprietary rights over the nearby dessert table, or you can just stick your head in and look around for free, annoying those who did decide to shell out the 35 clams for (semi) privacy.
Piracy on this plot started some twenty years after the abandonment of the garden settlement. With its eventual transformation into tavern and inn, the location became an ideal spot for sailors dropping anchor just across the street in the Savannah River to retreat for a little rum and relaxation, and the perfect setting for pirates to recruit new crews (willingly or un-).
The Pirate's House will probably always be most noteable for its role in Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island, where in an upstairs room Captain Flint cried out his last words "Fetch aft the rum, Darby." (No doubt to accompany his second (or third) helping of the squash--the stuff really is to die for.)
Pirate activity continues today in the form of a roaming Jack Sparrow, theatrically tipsy and ever eager to hand the wee ones a handful of gold dubloons. (If you're grown, they're 2 for $1.) The Pirate's House has also capitalized on the belief that Savannah is a haunted city by offering dinner packages and tours of the old rum cellar. Whether you come seeking history or ghosts, you'll return because of the treasure hidden in plain sight at The Pirate's House. And like a true pirate, you'll only divulge your secret to the truly worthy, letting the rest of the hungry land-lubbing tourist line up five blocks north, like sheep to the slaughter, while you go back for seconds.
**Can't get enough of a pirate's life? Come to Savannah in October for Pirate's Fest on nearby Tybee Island.[Ed.: I had the pleasure of dining in The Herb House with Kelly and her assembled clan back in aught-five and it is definitely the place to go in Savannah. (Don't know if anyone peeked in, as I was sitting at the end facing the stairs, so my back was to the main dining room. This put me in pole position for the dessert table.) I also hit a lot of other interesting establishments in Savannah, which, by the way, has free wifi access in many places all over town, including several of the 20+ squares. One of the other more memorable meals was at Aligator Soul, which I will have to tell you about one day.]