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Countdown to Savannah: Clary's Cafe and Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
Kathy Wood (kaydee)
In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.
With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.
Eat Where the Locals Eat
Yes, sure, in Savannah you can explore a wide variety of ethnic and upscale dining establishments. But do you really come to Savannah to eat the same kind of food you can eat in New York or Los Angeles or Toronto or St. Louis? Would you order Mexican in Pienza? Italian food in Paris? Most of us are inclined to pursue the true local specialities, and ideally in the places where the “real” locals eat. So in that spirit, today we'll turn our discussion of dining options to two long-time down-home Savannah establishments: Clary's Cafe and Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room.
Clary’s Café and Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room offer traditional home cooking in authentic settings at affordable prices. And even though you’ll find other tourists there, both places are also very popular with Savannah residents ... and have been for over 50 years.
Clary's Cafe—now with two locations-- was founded in 1903. The original location in the heart of the Historic District (at Abercorn Street and Jones Street) used to be a pharmacy and soda fountain. It became famous in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” when it was the filming location for the diner where the John Berendt character ate and saw the eccentric Luther Driggers (based on a real person) with his bottle of poison and pet flies. Several employees and regular customers were in the movie. A second location is at Habersham and 61st Street. Clary's Cafe is open seven days a week, but they don’t take reservations.
Clary’s prides itself on its atmosphere and great food. Their famous breakfast is served beginning at 7:00 am Monday-Thursday and 8:00 am Friday-Sunday and is available all day at both locations. The breakfast menu includes omelettes, french toast, crab cakes benedict, waffles, and various combinations of eggs with you-name-it, including a speciality called "Hoppel Poppel" (scrambled eggs with chunks of kosher salami, potatoes, onions and green peppers). You can have a complete breakfast for less than $10.
Lunch service begins at 11:30 and includes salads, homemade soups, burgers, fried chicken/fish baskets, and more. There are also daily specials. Clary’s is known for their pastries, pies and ice cream specialties; their signature dessert is jumbo chocolate éclairs filled with real baked custard, enough for two people to share. It's possible to come just for dessert. The Habersham location also serves dinner, which includes additional menu items.
Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room (formerly Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House) is another Savannah tradition, located on West Jones Street (west of Bull Street) in the Historic District. Mrs. Wilkes started serving food in the kitchen of a boarding house in 1943 and opened her now-famous dining room in this 1870 house back in 1965. Although Mrs. Wilkes died in 2002 at age 95, her tradition is now carried on by her granddaughter and great-grandson.
Lunch is the main meal served here: 11:30 am to 2:00 pm, Monday through Friday. (I have seen a few references to breakfast being served, but this is not included on what seems to be the very abbreviated official website.) The menu changes daily based on what’s in season. Expect a feast of southern specialities served family style at big tables: fried and baked chicken, barbeque ribs, ham, beef stew, collard greens, okra, mashed potatoes, squash, homemade biscuits and corn bread ... the same kind of food my 90-year old mother-in-law from East Tennessee used to fix for Sunday lunch. They don’t take reservations or credit cards. People line up as early as 10:00, waiting for the doors to open.
Mrs. Wilkes' and Clary’s Café might be two more reasons to extend your stay in Savannah!
All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)
Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood
© Kathy Wood, 2007
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