The Distinguished Gourmand: The Grey Bar & Restaurant
Rather than write a series of boring posts about my recent Thanksgiving travels, I figured I would pick one highlight and share it with you. It’s unlikely you care to read about my flight to New Jersey, the time I spent with my father there, my drive to Savannah, Georgia, the time I spent with my mother there, and the drive back to New Jersey before flying home to Los Angeles. It’d be a lot of “…and then we drank [insert beer here] after lunch [insert location — probably Wegmans — here].” I spent a lot of time with my mother and father on this trip. While maybe not flashy and exciting like other return trips to the East Coast, I got to see a lot of my family as well as my aunt, uncle, and cousins during my stay in Georgia. It was really, really good for the soul.
The day after Thanksgiving was cold, kind of grey, and generally unwelcoming — for Savannah. I don’t think I’ve ever visited when it’s not humid and hot…like how one normally pictures life in the South. Rather than eat leftovers, I charged my mother with finding a hip new restaurant for us to try. She suggested places like a.Lure, The Olde Pink House (which was later nixed because the seats are apparently uncomfortable…), Vic’s On The River, Green Truck Neighborhood Pub (which apparently serves the best burger in town), and Garibaldi. Elizabeth on 37th (Gail Simmons’ favorite spot) was nixed for being “not that impressive,” and other stalwarts were similarly poo-pooed. Then I stumbled upon this article from Eater which hailed The Grey as the restaurant of the year in 2017…nationwide.
My mother’s initial reaction was that she heard it wasn’t very good. We should go to Vic’s if we wanted a real Savannah experience. We should go to a.Lure because everyone loves it there. My aunt and uncle were nonplussed by The Grey. Wanna know what I told my mother? The nice version was something like, “Shut your mouth, woman. We’re going to The Grey.”
We arrived about five minutes before our 7:15 pm reservation, and were asked to wait momentarily in the restaurant’s entryway while our table was prepared. In the bar along the front of the old converted Greyhound bus station, a turntable spun a Bon Iver record while young and middle-aged crowd sipped cocktails and chatted loudly over their plates. When the needle reached the run-out groove the restaurant employee tasked with swapping out records had some difficulty sliding the vinyl back into its sleeve so I offered her some help. At first it felt demeaning, but she welcomed my assistance and I think opted for another indie record, though I don’t remember what it was.
We were quickly seated (probably not quick enough for mom) at a prime table right in the middle of the dining room. The space is pretty incredible, what with how they updated the old bus terminal. They have an interesting cocktail list, some neat flight options for bourbon drinkers, and a middling “reserve” list of expensive bottles from which you can order 3-ounce pours (Whistle Pig 15 year Rye, Middleton Very Rare, et. al.). I opted for a glass of Syrah, but I tasted their Kentucky Mule (which I think used either Angel’s Envy or Four Roses with house-made ginger beer) and it was quite good.
While ordering and awaiting the first of our courses we were treated to some boiled peanuts. I don’t have the refined palate of a food critic who can tell you whether or not these particular boiled peanuts were good or not. I can just say they were boiled peanuts, and leave it at that. There was some hesitation at the table regarding our order, and whether or not all present would be happy with the six dishes that…well…I’ll be honest. I pretty much picked out the entire meal regardless of everyone else’s wishes. The way I saw it, there was some hesitation as to whether or not we should even go to The Grey, so if everyone wasn’t as on board as I was, why should I let them pick what we eat? I wasn’t about to surrender my freedom of choice to people who didn’t even want to be there!
Our first course(s) arrived in unison. I started with the Chicken Liver Mousse Tart, which was topped with onion jelly and Maldon salt. It was easily one of the richest bites of the meal. While probably not the best way to begin a meal (how does one possibly build a natural progression of tastes when the first bite is THE RICHEST BITE) I cannot deny that it was incredibly flavorful and super unctuous and kind of phenomenal. I, of course, was the only person who enjoyed the tart. Everyone else thought it was too rich. Plebians.
The next plate was The Grey’s Red Pea Pancakes, with whipped lardo and pork jus. The lardo made for a fine textural contrast compared to the pancake, while the jus provided some much-needed succulence to the otherwise dry pancake. The wannabe healthy dork at the table requested the pea pancakes and declared them the best dish of the night, which is pretty laughable considering the previous plate (the tart) was head and shoulders above this, and there were still like 8 dishes to come. To say that my dining companions had their minds made up about The Grey before we were even served would be an understatement. The pea pancakes were fine. They weren’t revelatory. They were probably the most ho-hum dish of the night.
The final plate of our first course was Beef Tartare, with Ginger, Quail Egg, and a Sourdough Crouton. There was also (I think) some lemon zest/juice involved (though not stated no the menu) because there were bright hits of acid and citrus in each bite that totally made the dish. Maybe it was the ginger and I’m just a fucking moron who can’t tell what he’s tasting, but I’m pretty sure that’s lemon zest on top of the beef, not ginger. Also, wheres’s the Quail Egg? Is it hidden? Did they pre-mix it? I’m confused. Mom thought this was the best dish of the night but then changed her mind later for some stupid reason. She should have stuck with this one, as it was one of the standout bites. I’d respect her as a gourmand more if she doubled-down on the tartare. My one complaint about this dish is that the crouton was a pretty bad vessel for funneling the beef into your mouth. It was too fragile and porous.
The Spicy Sweet Potatoes with Crushed Peanuts, Scallions, and Arugula (I dunno…that looks and tasted like Parsley to me) was one of the highlights of the meal for me. I want to learn how to make these potatoes and bring them to every potluck I ever attend for the rest of my life. They were so good, with the little heat bombs waiting to go off in each of those pepper slivers, nuttiness playing against sweetness, the roasted/charred bits…they were just outstanding. I think mom liked this one the best, but she also nearly embarrassed me by choking and dying when she apparently didn’t realize those were hot pepper slices. One took her by surprise and stirred a coughing fit that drew some attention from a neighboring table. Oh mom, still finding new ways to embarrass me in public even after 35 years!
Any gourmand worth his weight in hipster foodie cred knows that when you see foie gras on a menu you have to order it. That The Grey serves their foie over grits with Peach Mostarda, Red Wine Gravy, and Onions makes it even more decadent. The grits were as good as could be, the foie was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the peach added a fantastic fruity component that really aided each bite. I’d call this the best dish of the night but I don’t want to lose your respect by choosing the obvious choice for best dish. I’ll just say it was really, really fucking good. Like similar dishes I’ve had before that check all the stupid hipster foodie dufus boxes (the beef and bone marrow pie at Chi Spacca comes to mind), I could live off this plate for the rest of my life. Just serve it to me at every meal and I’d die a happy man.
The special last Friday was Pork Shoulder. I should have taken better notes because other than the red onions I can’t remember any other element in the dish. The green slivers were something you wouldn’t expect, like…is papaya green? Guava? I swear to God, you would think I’d learn a thing or two from when I tried 100 new foods in a year, but I guess I’m still really bad at recognizing fruit. I think there were also mushrooms involved, maybe of the…hen of the woods variety? And the reduction was pork-related as well. I’d call my mom and ask her about it, but she’s probably asleep right now, and I don’t like to make a habit of rousing her from slumber to ask questions like, “What was on the pork dish we had at The Grey?” I’d ask the other diner at our table, but she’s out with friends and I don’t feel like interrupting her by asking, “Remember that meal you hated? Tell me what was on the last dish we had. I forget.” That seems like a good question to ask if I want to get yelled at for staying home and blogging instead of socializing with friends.
I’m not big into dessert — and will often put my fork down after a bite because I’m not into sweets — but the beignets were suggested by someone at the table so I ate about six of them. They were fine. I’ve never really watched any dessert-related food shows so I don’t have the vocabulary to describe whether or not fried dough is good or not. I know the malasadas in Hawaii were some of the best fried dough bites I’ve ever tasted. Is a beignet the Southern equivalent of a malasada? Am I going to get cut by some Confederate flag-waving psychopath for daring to speak ill about a beignet? Isn’t that a French/Cajun thing? It’s a fucking donut hole, guys. Let’s not waste too much time trying to figure out the precise level of greatness it can achieve. Dunkin Donuts donut holes are probably just as good.
And that’s The Grey! Would I call it “The Restaurant Of The Year” like the newly-minuted Los Angeles Times food critic did in 2017? No! So why is that guy the new LA Times food critic? I can do that job, too. I’d probably be funnier, as well. Hire me! I’m not so dumb as to compare this meal — which was really good by the way, fantastic even — to what I’m served at, like…Blue Hill At Stone Barns. Nothing compares to that. BHaSB (that’s what I call it for short) is one of the best meals I’ve ever had, period. Le Bernardin was better. Marea has been better, I think. Vespertine was better. If having a singular really good meal experience is enough to call a place the Restaurant Of The Year™️, then I’d call the Hanover, NJ location of Wegmans the restaurant of the year for 2018 because the Buffalo Chicken Finger sandwich I ate for lunch on Monday was so fucking good.
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Visions Of Someone Special, On A Wall Of Reflections [MP3]
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