There in the deep, dark night, riding along Waters Avenue, a glowing OPEN sign sent out an orange halo which caught my eye...it was 3:15 in the morning, not a soul on the lonely streets.
The old mandarin-colored diner sitting at the corner of 35th and Waters looked like something out of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting, or maybe Van Gogh’s “Night Café”—so, of course, I had to pull in and take a look.
Two men were at the counter, laughing softly and asking for chips, blunt wrappers, a cold drink, talking with the owner who looked surprised to see me, the White Queen of the Night, here at The Kickback.
That’s the catchy designation for this new addition to Savannah’s night life, where a welcoming orange beacon draws you in for a Monster Burger with onion rings or a waffle and pork chop that soothes the sudden hunger you get when the last call at the bar sends you lookin’ for sustenance.
Shawn Victor knows his stuff: his whole menu is composed of quickly handmade, delicious foods that the late night diner seeks out, cooked up in his pristine kitchen, and served to go.
Don’t look for a bathroom—this is strictly take-out, though you will be welcome to dine-in if you so desire it—usually the hour is too late for picnicking at Daffin Park.
Whether it’s a massive burger beautifully presented, topped with golden onion rings, a steak with fried shrimp, nachos piled high or the perfect kosher beef hotdog dressed in sauerkraut, chopped onions and brown mustard, he’ll do it up right. The huge and scrumptious Salmon Cakes with buttered toast are already on my favorites list.
For the light eater there’s an array of candy, chips of all kinds, even cereal and ramen. What made me smile, though, was the four big jars arranged on the back counter: pickled eggs and pickled sausages floating in pink brine, meaty pickled pig’s feet and, yes, a big jar of kosher dills, which touched off a certain nostalgia for my childhood.
I watched, through a window into the shining kitchen, as he donned his plastic gloves and created the whole order from scratch, with a peaceful intensity and skill fascinating to observe.
Every item comes in its own white box—no plates and flatware here—colorful, tempting, with a scent that enticed my hungry Southern soul.
The Kickback opens late in the day, around 1 p.m., and you can find it shining there on the corner until at least 3 a.m., sometimes as late as 4 or 5 a.m.—the hours are somewhat flexible.
Victor is well-known in east Savannah as the entrepreneur who started various popular teen clubs around town, and as the owner of the little red convenience store that sat by the future Kickback for nine years.
Like those clubs, he serves no alcohol, but has a fine sound system which reverberates with a thumping beat on Tuesday night’s Lip Synch Madness (NO rap allowed).
Old Savannah residents may remember a certain frozen summer treat made of a little Kool-Aid with a touch of juice and nice chunks of fruit, sold around local neighborhoods when schools shut their doors each June.
These are called Thrills, and Victor sells many varieties. As we used to say, “Get yer Thrills here!” For a late night venue like The Kickback, it’s the perfect drink special.
The next day, passing The Kickback while on a long walk, I spy another OPEN sign glowing in the window of the little celery green building catty-cornered and across the street.
No name appeared to tell me what the place was, just a little plaque in the window with “Now Open” and a phone number—that’s when I notice a couple of student-types leaving with a big smile on their faces and white take-out boxes in hand.
Time to see what’s goin’ on.
Baraka’s, the name of this new restaurant, means “Blessed” in Arabic, so says the owner and sole chef, Nakia Ellison. A neat little east-side joint with black tablecloths, touches of wood and sand-colored walls, each table decorated with a blazing pair of tropical orange and yellow flowers, this was an unexpected find.
The scent of fried seafood, fresh-baked biscuits and—mmm, is that oxtail in gravy?—brought me right on through the door.
A hot bar with ready-made soul food like tender turkey wings, pork chops, and meatloaf, surrounded by some of the richest mac n’ cheese I’d eaten in a long time, plus a variety of country vegetables, made me want to stay.
Her curried shrimp in gravy over yellow rice is a real treasure and those buttery biscuits are perfect for sopping up the delicately spicy gravy.
The sunlight hits those walls like a shimmery smile, and a little shadow remains in the corners, where the edges are a bit rough from the last remains of re-decorative construction, but the floors are spotless and the feel is low-key and welcoming. Prices are very reasonable and the hot-bar selections change daily. Get in early to snag a slice of her Red Velvet cake—it goes fast!—and try some the plump, fried oysters or delicious Jamaican Spicy wings for a tasty appetizer.
Be sure and ask about the seafood salad of the day, made with Savannah shrimp, crab or conch, all of which can be found here fresh fried or grilled, as well as T-bone steaks, deviled crab or Low Country Boil.
If breakfast is what you’re seeking, Baraka’s opens early Monday through Thursday at 6 a.m., so stop in for Nakia’s fluffy pancakes, smoked beef sausage, or fried fish.
Nakia is the only one cooking and serving and the place is as newly hatched as a spring chick, so not every item on the menu is available at all times of the day. Just call and ask and she’ll be happy to tell you what’s on special.
Two new eateries, both opened around the beginning of the year, have to be a good thing, and having them right across the street from each other, like reflections of the moon or sun on a smooth surfaced pond, gives you a convenience of choice which you’ll find appealing and satisfying.
1902 Waters Ave., 912/436-6977
1801 Waters Ave., 912/349-0601