The Best Little Restaurant in the South

All photos: courtesy of The Grey

We could discuss the thick pork chop, or the smashed new potatoes coated in palate-gripping brewers yeast. And we will. But, in talking about The Grey, the red-hot restaurant that itself makes an immediate trip to Savannah worth booking, first consider the dish the menu calls simply “Lettuces.” 

The menu further explains only this: “Anchovy, Parmesan, Garlic.” 

When the dish is brought out and rested on a dark laminated wood table, what does it look like? A simple pile of lettuce leaves laid one on another, crowned with a few chippings of parmesan, and thinly moated by olive oil. 

The server, a totally unpretentious, friendly, and straightforward woman, says “Lettuces,” and withdraws. 

Related: Is Savannah Really the South’s Most Charming City?

I spear a leaf and taste: It is lettuce and it tastes, perfectly, of lettuce. With flavors of anchovy. And parmesan. And garlic. It is easily the best lettuce I’ve ever had. 

It crunches freshly, then wraps fatly across the tongue like lardo, delivering a richness and a fishy tang, a sense of a sunny farm nearby and a distant life on a Mediterranean terrace. It is a Caesar salad with the unnecessary parts left somewhere in the garden of good and evil. I know, I love croutons, too, and creamy sauce. 

But this. 

Sometimes saying “It is what it is,” is a way to take the sting off bad news. But in this case it’s good news. The lettuce delivered here by chef Mashama Bailey, a disciple of the great New York restaurateur and memoirist Gabrielle Hamilton, is what it is. 

Savannah (Photo: Thinkstock)

Of course, there are a thousand reasons to go to Savannah. The leafy squares, the charming historic downtown, the flourishing art scene around the Savannah College of Art and Design, even the very fine new Hugh Acheson restaurant The Florence located across town from The Grey.  

Related: Savannah Is the Best Urban Hot Spot You Haven’t Been to Yet

But the lettuce, the space, the chef, and the investor, John O. Morissano, who poured millions into making The Grey a must-eat for locals and visiting food tourists alike, speak. They say, “Take a look around this old bus station. The kitchen? That used to be the luggage area. The special events room was, before the civil rights movement, a segregated waiting area. 

The pork shank. 

Both Esquire and Food & Wine have touted it as one of the nation’s best new restaurants. I’m telling you they’re right. 

That pork chop? Flavorful as the sights one sees while passing an hour watching the world go by from a bench in Forsyth Park, it sits on a risotto-like bed of Carolina rice and under a cascade of mushrooms. The new potatoes are as addictive as Goldfish crackers. The Pot de Crème with molasses and candied peanuts comes together like a praline. 

The walls are hung with paintings from local artists. The bar in front is a mix of an Edward Hopper painting, a David Lynch movie, and a Charlie Smith novel. 

The truth of a restaurant and of a chef is always on the plate and this place and this chef are vibrant and delicious and now. I know that many many more accolades will come for The Grey. I’m grateful I was able to be there during the first blush of what I hope will be a long prime.  

Order anything, but also order Lettuce.

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