Where Local Chefs Hang Out

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Savannah’s culinary leaders dish on where they eat, drink, date and unwind on their days off

Photography by JASON B. JAMES

JUST LIKE THEIR DINERS, Savannah’s chefs are on a constant hunt for the city’s best food, drinks and hospitality — whether it’s at an old haunt, a new Thai spot off Mall Boulevard or a booth at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. We spoke with seven of the industry’s finest to find out where they like to eat, drink, date and unwind on their days off.

Men sitting at a table full of food and eating with chopsticks
E-Tang owner David Xin chats with chefs Juan Stevenson and Steffan Rost.

Late Air’s head chef, Juan Stevenson, eats at E-Tang at least twice a month. The Szechuan restaurant opened in 2021 inside a nondescript shopping center off Oglethorpe Avenue and has since gained a loyal following among the city’s chefs. 

“At one point, the first year they were open, I went three times in one week,” he says. On each visit, Stevenson orders six to eight generous plates, usually split with his wife, Ryan Jones, a pastry cook at Stevedore Bakery. He and Jones slide into a booth and tuck into their favorite dishes: crispy spicy chicken (a.k.a. “Szechuan chicken nuggets,” according to Stevenson), stir-fried green beans, garlic eggplant, shrimp and pork soup dumplings and dan dan noodles.

For a spice-tinged, choose-your-own-adventure meal, regulars also recommend whole roasted and fried fish (if you’re dining in), braised pork belly under a blanket of sautéed jalapeños, anything “griddled” (beef, chicken or shrimp), Sichuan beef noodle soup, twice-cooked pork, fried rice and garlic cucumbers.

Natasha Gaskill, pastry chef and co-owner of Sixby, is a fellow E-Tang fan — though she also has a soft spot for shrimp egg foo young at Cantonese Chef Restaurant on Waters Avenue.

Your Chef-Curated Forsyth Farmers’ Market Shopping List

  • Bottle of beet-watermelon juice: Juicy Greenz 
  • Produce good enough to top a Vittoria pizza: Gannon Organics 
  • The beginnings of a killer salad: Billy’s Botanicals 
  • Next-level burger patties, sausage and rib roasts: 920 Cattle Co. 
  • Yogurt and everything bagel-spiced goat cheese: Bootleg Farm 
  • Wildflower honey: Readees Bees

Baking icon and award-winning cookbook author Cheryl Day is a morning person, and a professional lifetime of making biscuits and cinnamon rolls at her former Back in the Day Bakery has only deepened her love of breakfast. 

“My husband, Griff, makes a mean breakfast,” she says. But if the couple wants to eat out, they go to Dottie’s Market on Broughton Street, where Day orders the blue plate special (scrambled eggs, grits, house-cured bacon, cornbread and greens) or a breakfast sandwich (there’s a crispy number with sausage, fried egg, hash browns, cheese and pepper relish). “I like to go places where I feel well taken care of,” says Day.

Her other picks are Narobia’s Grits & Gravy for fish and grits or a seafood omelet and The Breakfast Club on Tybee Island for a pecan waffle and sausage. “It’s a greasy spoon, a hole in the wall,” says Day of the latter spot. “It’s by no means a club.”

Two men and a woman eating and talking
Chefs Dave and Georgia Baker enjoy cocktails and conversation with The Garage at Victory North’s former chef Todd Harris.

Savannah’s old-school restaurants aren’t just for tourists. Crystal Beer Parlor remains an industry favorite for burgers, beers and nostalgia. Georgia Baker also digs the restaurant’s over-the-top, deep-fried pound cake. 

Cheryl Day dines at Elizabeth’s on 37th when she’s in a celebratory mood. “Elizabeth’s started it all. It set the bar for Savannah,” she says. 

And when it’s cold out, Natasha Gaskill and her husband/business partner, Matthew Palmerlee, like to go to Planters Tavern in the cellar of The Olde Pink House. “There’s a roaring fire. Somebody’s playing the piano, and it’s really cozy,” Gaskill says. “We’ll get some soup and split a bottle of wine. It’s really about the ambiance. It feels like old Savannah.”

The Days are fans of The Garage at Victory North for relaxed nights out. “I love spending time there, and Todd [Harris] is definitely one to watch on the food scene,” says Cheryl Day. “My favorite dishes are his collard green Caesar salad, crispy mushrooms and any seafood dishes he’s cooking.” (Editor’s note: At press time, Harris announced he has parted ways with The Garage.) 

An ideal date night for Shahin Afsharian of Big Bon Bodega involves getting elbow-deep in Lowcountry boil at StingRay’s Seafood on Tybee. “We eat with our hands and get messy. It’s so satisfying,” he says. 

Some days, Kyle Jacovino likes to unwind by watching sports, eating wings and drinking a beer. The pizza maker and owner of Vittoria Pizza would achieve that anonymity at Coach’s Corner in Thunderbolt if not for bartender Jake Koshinski. 

“He might be the best bartender in Savannah,” says Jacovino. “The dude practices old-school customer service. He remembers everyone’s name, everyone’s order. He does a roll call to make sure everyone’s good before he goes to smoke a cigarette. You’re not even finished with a beer yet, and he hands you a new glass.”

Chefs’ Drinking Cheat Sheet

Specialty coffee drink: PERC
Perfect martini: Colleagues & Lovers 
Mezcal sour: Lone Wolf Lounge
Fancy old fashioned: Baobab Lounge
Cool bottle of wine: Late Air 
Cold beer and a dozen oysters: Brochu’s Family Tradition
Beer with a pool cue in hand: Ellie’s Crow Bar & Grill 
Faux rosé or a nonalcoholic cocktail: The Garage at Victory North

A woman's hand holding a cocktail

Savannah’s bars have long provided late-night bites to help fortify its most committed drinkers — and chefs who don’t leave work until midnight. 

McDonough’s is still a guilty pleasure,” says Chambliss, whose kitchen at Das Box serves food until 1 a.m. “It’s always a good time. I usually grab fish and chips and call it a night.” 

Before Brochu’s Family Tradition opened, Georgia and Dave Baker worked at Husk Savannah, the crew of which would descend on The Garage at Victory North for post-shift Crunch Wrap Supremes with wagyu, bone marrow salsa roja and crema. The restaurant crowd is devoted to — but also torn between — Two Tides Crispi and Over Yonder, both purveyors of smash burgers.

“The division for me is, if I want a burger, I’m going to go to Crispi. That’s the closest I can get to an elevated fast-food burger. But when it comes to fried chicken sandwiches and fries at Over Yonder, it’s lights out,” says Stevenson.

When they want to eat a special meal with their special someone, chef couples Georgia and Dave Baker and Juan Stevenson and Ryan Jones head to Common Thread, Brandon Carter’s progressive, farm-to-table restaurant set in a lovingly restored Victorian home. 

Nick Chambliss worked for a stint at Common Thread and returns often for date night, but he also crosses the river for epic meals at Bernard Bennet’s Okàn in Bluffton. “I love how different the menu is from anything else around,” says Chambliss. “The last time I went, I ordered every small plate, plus lamb shank and jerk goat.”

Where to Lunch, According to Local Chefs

StrangeBird: “Felipe [Vera] is a badass,” says Kyle Jacovino of Strangebird’s co-chef. “His tacos are awesome, and they always have really good specials. Last week, he made posole, and it was legit.”

Black Rabbit: “It’s half sandwich shop and half dive bar. I get the Van Gogh,” says chef Dave Baker (Brochu’s Family Tradition) of a sandwich with roasted chicken, sweet peppers, havarti and honey mustard on whole wheat.

Klom Klom Thai: “It’s Northern Thai food from the people at PJ’s Thai,” says Georgia Baker, pastry chef at Brochu’s Family Tradition. “Duck khao soi is my favorite dish.” 

Shuk Mediterranean: “I’m half Iranian and half Mexican,” says Shahin Afsharian of Big Bon Bodega, explaining his love of fast-casual, Middle Eastern-meets-Mediterranean flavors at Shuk. His go-to order is falafel, chicken shawarma or a tabbouleh-beet-halloumi salad. 

Brighter Day Deli: “There’s this baked cheese sandwich with avocado, veganaise and a spring mix or spouts. It’s been on the menu for 20 years,” says Natasha Gaskill of her midday go-to.

Al Salaam Deli: “The owner is Palestinian, and Al Salaam is the closest I can get to Turkish cuisine,” says Juan Stevenson, who lived in Istanbul for a few years and always orders the kufta kabob.

Find this feature and much more in the March/April issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today!