Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Looks like I need to get a few posts in if I'm going to keep to my five-a-month streak going. We've been traveling quite a bit this month and searching for good food on the road reminded me about one of the original inspirations for this blog: the difficulty in finding restaurants that cater equally well to vegetarians and omnivores.

Since Jim had to be in Charleston, SC on a Sunday for a conference, we decided to make a weekend of it. We started in our favorite southern city, Savannah, GA. Savannah has been our preferred romantic getaway ever since we lived in Atlanta. Its gorgeous architecture, walkable historic squares, and quirky sensibility makes it the perfect place to park the car and amble away the days.
We had no particular agenda other than to relax, so we simply ate and drank our way through Savannah at the leisurely pace that the heat and humidity demanded. Thanks to Jim's many nights on the road this year, we were able to score a room on points at the Bohemian. Intrigued by what we'd heard about this chain of boutique hotels (the newly-opened Grand Bohemian in Asheville looks quite swish and over-the-top with its hunting lodge theme), we were not disappointed. At least with the service and decor. The hotel has gone to great lengths to ensure that its rooms and furnishings do not in any way remind one of the standard hotel. The room was huge and well-appointed, including big comfy leather chairs in which to lounge while speculating about the authenticity of the snakeskin desk chair and the fur throw on the bed. They may want to consider permanently installing an IT guy in the room to help with the unnecessarily complex tv/internet system. Also, some popcorn to drop on the way to the bathroom so one can find one's way back would have been good.
The chandelier over the bed--with its "are those bones or shells?" look--could have precipitated any number of nightmares but thanks to the endless stream of drunken revelers on the street below, we didn't approach REM stage long enough to find out. Not the hotel's fault, really. Staying near the river in Savannah is a bit like staying near Rush Street in Chicago--definitely not for the early birds. We will try a sister hotel on one of the squares next time. And lest you think we didn't enjoy our stay, let me say that the comfy bed and entertainment value of the decor largely made up for the flaws.

Friday night, we ate at the Firefly Cafe. This small restaurant, tucked in the basement of a building off of the main drag, has always charmed us more than it should. There's something about the location and atmosphere that, while not fancy, just appeal to us. Maybe it was the warm glow of the lights beckoning to us on some cold, rainy night when we were desperate for food, but whatever the association, it has stuck. The food isn't cheap (few things in Savannah are), but it is good. The vegetarian options are rarely as protein-packed as we normally seek, but they always make Jim happy, nonetheless.

We began our Saturday at our favorite coffee shop.
Not only does the Sentient Bean have the best coffee in Savannah, it also has great vegetarian food. Jim was able to start the day with a tofu-packed breakfast burrito while I enjoyed a worthy granola with yogurt (minor complaint: the otherwise large and lovely blueberries were just a tad shy of being thoroughly thawed). The shop is next door to a natural foods store which we have used before as an emergency source of healthy food for Jim.

There was much activity in the park on this day, so as we left the Bean, we wandered through the Saturday farmer's market:
Not only was it different from most of the farmer's markets we attend in that there was Spanish Moss dripping from every tree, but we noticed a high percentage of African-American farmers selling everything from fresh produce to gourmet pasta. A bit further down in the park, they were setting up lots of booths for the Pride festival. Again, it was unusual to see a Pride event in September rather than June, but given the weather, I can understand why--it was schvitzy enough by 11am to make us attentive to which side of the street had shade. We were intrigued to see that the Log Cabin Republicans had a booth among others.

After a much-needed stop for lemonade, we made our way to Zunzi's--a hole-in-the-wall South African takeout and catering place. Originally, we were going to stop here for lunch but with a late breakfast and saving room for afternoon tea, it seemed unwise. But I just couldn't pass up the rare chance to have boerewors. Jim wisely passed on food (they do have vegetarian options including falafel) but I got an appetizer portion of boerewors with gravy over mashed potatoes. We sat on a park bench in a lovely square while I did my best to devour the incredibly generous portion of the spicy South African sausage that tastes like none other.

We strolled some more squares thinking we'd hit the Gryphon tea room late in the afternoon and call it an early dinner, but as a big storm approached about 3pm, we decided not to wait for high tea at 4pm. We made it in just as the skies opened up. This time Jim ate while I enjoyed a nice pot of tea and a scone. Thanks to a great window seat, we watched the soggy tourists, SCAD students, and horses go by from our dry perch. The Gryphon is one of the gazillions of beautiful old buildings owned and restored by the Savannah College of Art and Design. The school and its denizens have much to do with why we enjoy this town as much as we do--great architecture and great people watching.

The rest of the day was spent dodging bands of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Hermine. We got out of the Gryphon in time to wander over to Molly MacPherson's--home to 150 single-malt Scotch whiskies--before the next deluge. I finally got to try the Compass Box Peat Monster for which I'd been searching. It was one of the nicest, most balanced single malts I've had despite the extreme name. Jim tried more than I can recall but none beat the Peat Monster. Molly's scotch eggs left something to be desired (namely the sausage which was largely MIA), but we have to give major props to any place that offers flights of Scotch whisky.

Although we were tired enough for bed at 10pm, we realized we both needed a bit more nutrition, so we took advantage of the proximity of another one of our old haunts, the Blue Moon Brewing Company directly across from our hotel. Decent beer (it seemed better before we had so many good craft brewing options) but good vegetarian options for Jim and a surprisingly tasty cheese and leek tart appetizer (served with a generous portion of lentils) for me fit the bill.

In the morning, we hit Gallery Espresso for breakfast. The atmosphere is great as are the pastries, but sadly the coffee is not quite up to par. Not terrible, but not as good as the Bean. So, we checked out of the Bohemian, hopped in the truck, and headed back to the bean for road coffee. Next up: Charleston.

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