First off, thank you to everyone who responded to my initial query about Savannah dining, and a thank-you to those who had posted such wonderful tips on the entire region--these posts guided me well!
WILBER'S BBQ, Goldsboro, NC: I had the BBQ plate with green beans, potato salad, and hush puppies. The BBQ was very good--spicy, vinegary, not as smoky as I would have liked but as a Yankee I feel I have no right to comment! The hush puppies were perfectly fried, and the potato salad was nice and mustardy just like I like it.
HANK'S, Charleston: I just ate at the bar and had the she-crab soup and a Palmetto Amber Ale. I don't know what she-crab soup is "supposed" to taste like but what I ate was delicious--rich, creamy, mild, well balanced.
PENINSULA GRILL, Charleston: The famed coconut cake is, indeed, all that.
HOMINY GRILL, Charleston: The shrimp and grits breakfast was delicious--they drizzled some sort of hot oil over the shrimp, grits, bacon, peppers, and mushrooms, to perfection! I'm clearly not the only one who thought so--Anthony Bourdain walked in during my meal. (I had shrimp and grits for dinner at Bistro Savannah and far preferred this version; it was prepared with less flash and more love.)
JESTINE'S, Charleston: Just the Coca-Cola cake to go. I've never had Coca-Cola cake before so I have nothing to compare it to, but this was scrumptious--caramely, dense, chewy, yum!
GULLAH GRUB, St. Helena Island: Fish chowder in a tomato base, cornbread, salad, and "swampwater," which I suspect was an Arnold Palmer and was wonderfully refreshing. The chowder was full and rich without being too heavy, the cornbread was moist, the salad was fresh. The Gullah woman sitting out front weaving baskets said she'd never had the fish chowder because she couldn't make herself order anything other than their crab soup. It was a relaxing meal--very open and sunny room. This was a sleeper hit of a meal--one of the only restaurants on the island that I saw, and I'm glad I went. I talked to a couple of other patrons, one of whom is from the area and Gullah; she said that this was one of the more authentic places serving Gullah food and that she came there to be reminded of what she ate growing up. It's right off the main road coming onto the island, at the "four corners."
PLANTERS TAVERN (Olde Pink House), Savannah: I went for the atmosphere more than the food as reviews here were so-so, and the food was indeed so-so. Crab cake with remoulade and fried green tomatoes--good but not transcendent.
MRS. WILKES, Savannah: Delicious! I try not to eat at places that tour buses stop but I figured I should have at least one classic southern meal, and I'm glad I did. Just darn good food, especially those incredible sweet potatoes.
ELIZABETH'S ON 37th, Savannah: Sapelo Island clams in a broth of Vidalia onions, country ham, and rosemary, with cornbread madeleines; snapper fillet with beef reduction and an Asiago crust, shredded potatoes, brussel sprout hash; cream cake with strawberry-rhubarb creme anglaise. They also brought out some tasting items, mussels with an ale-chipotle sauce, a Thai-style shrimp soup, and several nice wines. This was one of the best meals of my life, particularly the clam appetizer. The chef and waitstaff clearly know how to make a meal "sing"--every ingredient was perfectly in harmony with all the others, and the whole affair was perfectly timed. I was dining by myself and particularly appreciated that the waitstaff took excellent care of me (some places give solo diners a snub). Just a wonderful experience all around.
QUEENY'S, Savannah: BBQ plate with okra and tomatoes and mac & cheese. Solid on all counts, nothing incredible but a nice change from the beaten path; I'd go again.
BISTRO SAVANNAH, Savannah: Southern fried quail with Andouille spoonbread and fruit compote, shrimp and grits with tasso ham and fried leeks. I got a kick out of the fried quail--the dish came together nicely and it was, well...cute! The shrimp entree was good but a little greasy, and not as good as what I had at Hominy Grill. Maybe I didn't order well or maybe anything after Elizabeth's would be a letdown, but I wasn't terribly impressed, though there was nothing wrong with my meal. It just never made me say Wow.
SKYLIGHT INN, Ayden, NC: BBQ with cornbread and slaw. It's rare that I'm not just a teensy bit disappointed by something that's supposed to be legendary, and lucky for me this was one of those rare times. Perfectly vinegary, perfectly fatty, just perfect! (Again, this Yankee doesn't know a lot about BBQ, but I know enough to know that I didn't regret the hour-plus of extra driving I had to do to get there, and would happily do it again.)