IT’S ONE of the first things you notice when you walk in—besides the cheerful smiles of the hostess & servers.
A certain cool, laid-back, yet elegant quality to the interior of Cotton & Rye, a fresh new downtown eatery: trim white brickwork, sunlight setting the smooth maple butcher-block tables aglow, crystal lamps, gray accents and the lemony yellow & gray tapestry on the side wall...
And what’s that?
A bank vault?
For those craving privacy there is a small room tucked away in the corner, housed in an actual bank vault kept over from a previous incarnation.
But for all others, you have your choice of a cool indoor seat, or brunch out on the covered porch or umbrella-shaded patio tables. The gray slats on the porch keep the hot sun away but still permit the flow of summer breezes.
Owners Zach Shultz and his friends Brandon & Kimberly Whitehead have created an approachably stylish foodie haunt that has already began to top the lists of Savannah folk who want just the right place for a date, an inventive cocktail after work, friends pining for the perfect brunch, or families trying out their creative menu of Southern favorites with a twist.
I was on hand for opening night, and though the crowd got a little heavy and the noise level rose as the evening went on, Kimberly and her staff had everything well in hand and the ambience remained easy and light.
It helps if you have good bread. The eponymous fresh-baked-daily rye slices, wrapped cozily in a white cotton cloth will definitely help you while away your time between courses.
The menu is simple and each dish exudes a farm-to-table freshness that makes you want to order just one more dish. I highly recommend the Octopus fingerlings in sherry with tender asparagus spears & caramelized shallot—seriously delicious!
The smoky, tender meat melts on the tongue and makes a perfect companion dish to the Shrimp n’ Grits: succulent grilled shrimp atop stone-ground grits with aged cheddar, seared cherry tomatoes and bacon.
Salads here are beautifully presented, colorful and crisp, and salad-lovers will find the salty feta, crumbly bleu cheese and farmer cheeses only amplify the flavor. I especially like the cornbread croutons & muscadine grapes, as well as the bacon-sorghum vinaigrette, a pleasant nod to Southern cuisine.
The Hanger Steak, with its lightly charred outside, pinkly juicy interior and tasty red wine au jus is bound to be a big favorite here, and for those who feel more comfortable with the familiar, there is the Fried Chicken Thighs with mac ‘n’ cheese & coleslaw, or a bacon cheeseburger with caramelized onions. It’s ain’t all high-toned gourmet here!
I like to bring along friends or family to sample a new place and get their reactions on the new flavors; this time Mama Bear and my sister Lori joined me.
Right off, Ma orders the Fried Shrimp. I asked her, Why order something so ordinary? Her answer: Because, in a place like this, even the ordinary has to be special! And, believe me, it is!
The order was halved so she and my sis could share, but with some of the BIGGEST shrimp I’ve ever seen, rolled in a crispy golden coating and partnered with large, fresh cut steak fries, it makes an ample meal for two!
We love the house-made lemon dill tartar sauce—and the shrimp are so good I even ate the nicely crunchy shrimp tails they put aside (dipped in that sauce, of course). Hey, don’t knock it til ya try it!
My Striped Bass was superbly tender, succulent & juicy on the inside, with a delightful, gently charred and slightly chewy crust, and lying atop a colorful succotash of corn, onions, smoky bacon and red bell peppers.... ah, well, it is a feast of both the eyes and the tastebuds!
Later in the week we three make it over for Sunday Brunch—the clear light shone on happy families and intimate couples alike, and the bartenders were busy creating watermelon refreshers and sublime Bloody Marys. Mama Bear dines on a brunch version of the Shrimp ‘n’ Grits, served with two eggs fried quickly with crispy brown edges.
Lori loved the Chicken Salad, though there was a slight misunderstanding on what was being offered—just a note here: this is not a shredded-chicken n’ mayo kinda thing, but tender house-smoked chicken thigh, sliced and piled atop a crisp salad of Bibb lettuce, garnished with cornbread croutons.
The Cuban Sandwich here is the best I’ve had since Miami: the buttery crunch of the bread and the pile of smoky pork, the Taylor ham brought in special from New Jersey, and the almost tart Gruyere cheese makes a combination that is breathtaking.
Instead of the steak fries, which to me always seem a bit heavy even for brunch, I chose the Fresh Fruit bowl—the watermelon, fresh peaches and sliced strawberries have a lovely, bright flavor that suited me perfectly after the big Cuban!
You would think there’d be no room for dessert...wrong! I hear the special today: Challah Bread Pudding. Oh my, yes!
Served in a small cast iron skillet, nestled in pool of buttery sweet custard sauce and crowned with big, juicy blueberries and sliced Georgia peaches, it proves to be divinely inspired: the hint of cinnamon and soupçon of brandy made it the perfect brunch dessert!
Like everything here, it warms the heart and satisfies the foodie soul—and I can’t wait to return!
Cotton & Rye
1801 Habersham St.
TUES-THURS: 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
FRI & SAT: 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
SUN (brunch): 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.