We took our hosts out to brunch The Grey, a fantastic restaurant in a brilliantly restored 1938 Art Deco former greyhound station (the new one is around the block). It’s a very fun space, with oval banquettes, a counter, remnants of the original pale green wall tiles, including original graffiti (a young server pointed out to me.) A three piece band with a terrific female singer performed while we ate delicious, sophisticated takes on southern fare including crab beignets, fried chicken with half dollar size corn meal hotcakes, “pigs head” (pork cheek). The chef Mashama Bailey is a James Beard award winner. I’m glad I booked (five weeks in advance).
The Grey is walking distance to the western part of historic Savannah so we gladly sauntered through some other lovely squares including one fronted by the cool looking Jepson Center for the Arts, in a glassy cube of a contemporary building designed by Moshe Safdie, which is the youngster of the Telfair Museums, the south’s oldest art museum. (Safdie also designed Arkansas’s fabulous Crystal Bridges museum.) The museums include the elegant 1819 mansion housing the Telfair academy — the first American art museum founded by a woman (Mary Telfair, in 1886!) Other highlights we passed: Asher + Rye, an upscale bakery, drinks, clothing and home goods place, the Perry Lane hotel (a high design luxury hotel full of antiques and contemporary artwork including by artists with ties to SCAD, aka the Savannah College of Art and Design), Zunzi’s, a “South African-inspired” (whatever that means) sandwich shop next door to the hotel and the surprisingly gorgeous interior of Basilica Cathedral St. John’s the Baptist, a French Gothic wonder (originally built in 1876, rebuilt after a fire in 1900) with its high pale green marble columns.
We decided that Savannah is livelier and more interesting than Charleston, although we loved Charleston. The presence of SCAD is overt (with buildings scattered all over town) and more subtle (with well-curated and designed shops every which way). Then there’s the sheer loveliness of the squares and boulevards and Forsyth Park.