I discovered the truth of the adage that smell is probably the most powerful of our senses when my mother sent me a box of my own baby clothes during my pregnancy. I looked at the things in the box and had no recollection of them, but picked up a pink wool blanket with satin binding and brought it to my nose. All of a sudden, I was swept back to a time and place where I had no exact memory; however, the scent of the blanket let me know that I was holding my past in my hand.
I have found that, like smell, food also evokes powerful memories for me. This week, I am attending the annual municipal judges’ conference – my 20th. Max was able to join me for dinner one night, and we tried a new restaurant where Andre’s used to be. This iteration is Savannah Grille, and as we ate dinner, I was taken back to Oxford, Mississippi, where I ate bacon maple ice cream and award winning shrimp and grits and lived to tell about it, and to Savannah, Georgia, where we ate more good food than we could ever forget.
When I wrote my first travel article, I decided that Oxford would be a good place to go: it is home to Ole Miss, it has an annual literary festival, and it beckons English majors because it is William Faulkner’s home. I hit the food jackpot, because the chef at City Grocery – a restaurant, and not a grocery store – had won a James Beard award the year before (www.chefjohncurrence.com).
John Currence’s shrimp and grits contains more bacon than I want to tell, but I ate every bit of it (I got the recipe!). We also ate his blueberry ice cream, and on our second visit, we had surprisingly delicious maple bacon ice cream. I would never have dreamed up that combination! Additionally, we compared the catfish at Taylor Grocery – also a restaurant – with the catfish at Fred’s Fish House in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas (Fred’s wins, but I may be biased).
Unlike Currence’s, but excellent in its own right, Savannah Grille’s shrimp and grits is like a stew in a rich lobster broth – a true low country concoction. After Chef Robert told us about his culinary path through the South, I told him that his dish was second to Currence’s. He was pleased, and told us that his dish is Charleston style rather than traditional Southern shrimp and grits.
We then discussed food in Savannah, and it turns out that one of his favorite restaurants, Alligator Soul, is where Max and I had probably one of the best meals we have ever eaten, which included oysters on the half shell with cucumber vinegar and tomato vinegar, and yet another version of the South’s calling card – shrimp and grits. Currence still triumphed as far as the shrimp and grits, but Alligator Soul won our “Best Restaurant” award.
So as we sat on Savannah Grille’s deck this week, enjoying dinner at the end of a late spring day, watching the boats traversing the water, I remembered the good food and the good times that had come before. I found myself yearning for another Savannah Dan chocolate malt at Leopold’s, another Moscow Mule with Bartender Matt’s homemade ginger beer, another dinner at Alligator Soul, another taste of Currence’s famous shrimp and grits, another bite of Taylor Grocery’s fried catfish. Then I realized that sometime hence, I will be tasting something that brings me back to Savannah Grille’s deck and a lovely dinner overlooking a calm lake. I am looking forward to that experience, wherever it may be. I’m sure it will taste good.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.