Do not think for a minute that what was Rocks on the River for the last fifteen years has undergone a simple rebranding and splash-dash paint job.

When Coastal 15 cranks open its brand-new garage doors and reveals itself to the River Street throngs on March 7, it will be clear that this is a completely new rez-de-chaussée restaurant at The Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront.

The strategic closure of Rocks on the River back in December ushered in a wholesale changeover of concept, physical space, and culinary crew, and leading the reborn resto and overseeing food operations throughout the posh property is executive chef Luke Wolf.

“I feel great,” said Wolf, who came onboard in late December, quickly admitting that “there is a lot going on: opening a new restaurant, building new systems, hiring and getting to know an entire staff.”

Much of this massive renovation happened before he took the mantle, and Wolf credited Coastal 15’s menu to The Kessler Collection’s Corporate Director of Culinary Kyle Lipetzky, who previously served as executive chef of JW Marriott Plant Riverside.

“All of this was in motion many months before I was in the picture,” added Wolf, who anticipates incorporating his own dishes over the next several months.

click to enlarge Bohemian Hotel opens Coastal 15 with Executive Chef Luke Wolf at the helm
Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront

‘STAYING IN TOUCH WITH SAVANNAH’

“It’s a coastal seafood chophouse concept,” Wolf explained, “but we’re very much in-tune with the local flavor profile,” immediately evident in a pimento cheese starter served with chicken crisps and Savannah hot honey.

“I’m excited about that dish,” he said with a knowing smile.

That makes all of us. Honestly, every restaurant in town should be serving crispy chicken skins.

The Lowcountry chowder provides the flavor profile of its namesake boil but in a sturdy stew, presented with all the familiar components but without having to pick–and-peel one bite.

“We’re doing the work for you,” Wolf promised.

Since the calendar turned to 2024, he and Lipetzky have been “test-running” two or three of the new dishes each week, and in between, much of the former’s time-on-task has been spent reorganizing the kitchen, which has a new combi oven, a new fryer, and a new salamander, and “rearranging the line to tailor it to our menu.”

What Wolf called the menu’s “starting point” is a garde manger, a selection of cold raw bar items as well as a handful of hot smaller plates, including lobster hush puppies.

“It’s a fun dish,” he said. “Again, there’s that Southern touch. The pimento cheese, the hush puppies, the Lowcountry boil. We’re staying in touch with Savannah.”

As he looked over the menu for his early favorites, Wolf coyly confessed, “It’s so hard to choose.”

“These signature dishes are really exciting,” he said. “We’ve got a play on chicken-and-dumplings with a ricotta gnocchi” that stands in for the standard starch and a house-made corn-and-ricotta agnolotti with shrimp, “one of Chef Kyle’s signature dishes.”

In keeping with a chophouse concept, many of the entrées are “stand-alone” dishes with a specifically paired complement, though any of several savory sides can be added, of course.

click to enlarge Bohemian Hotel opens Coastal 15 with Executive Chef Luke Wolf at the helm
Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront

Differentiating it from its predecessor in the property, Wolf foresees a concept that is “a little more refined” and “doesn’t lose sight of Savannah cuisine.”

MORE IS BETTER

Recruited to be the executive chef at The Oglethorpe Club, Wolf moved to Savannah in 2016, and he held that post until this past November.

“That was a great opportunity. I forged many amazing relationships with staff, membership, purveyors, all across the board,” he said fondly. “It’s just a wonderful place, and I really enjoyed my time there.”

Seven years have sailed by.

“I moved here with a twenty-month-old daughter,” Wolf said with a smile and paused. “I now have three daughters. The twenty-month-old is now nine. Nine, seven, and four.”

Luring the chef from the edge of Forsyth Park to the riverside was a lead role at a totally remade restaurant, and much like his own fuller house, his transition from a private club to a hotel restaurant promises to be an exercise in expansion.

“The Oglethorpe Club was smaller scale than what this is,” Wolf acknowledged. “Essentially, I was a private chef for 350 members, and here, the floodgates have now been opened.”

“We anticipate quite a bit of volume,” he added. “There are a lot more seats, we’re on River Street, and it’s not a private club.”

During his time there, Wolf estimated that The Oglethorpe Club probably saw a 60-40 split between à la carte service and banquet dining and recognized that the vast majority of Coastal 15’s business will come from the tens-of-thousands traipsing around the busiest section of Savannah.

click to enlarge Bohemian Hotel opens Coastal 15 with Executive Chef Luke Wolf at the helm
Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront

STEM TO STERN

“That’s been a gut renovation, hundred percent,” Wolf said of the expansive dining space, “and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

On a lovely day, those three garage doors will open wide to welcome in breezes off the river and, undoubtedly, countless diners. The open-air interior design is modern yet homey and matches the restaurant’s moniker thanks to light barnwood and shell tile floors and creamy whitewashed wood walls. Call it sea shack chic.

A trapezoidal bar at the eastern end is lined with gleaming black-and-gray agate and rich reclaimed wood, and on the opposite side is a private dining room.

Throughout the eight-plus weeks that the riverwalk resto was under reconstruction, Rocks on the Roof remained open, serving breakfast for the hotel guests and offering an “all-day menu.”

With Coastal 15 open, breakfast has moved back downstairs, and within the next two months, Wolf expects that a brand-new brunch menu will be unveiled for weekends with breakfast available on weekdays.

“It will be a slightly different format but will have a lot of the same offerings,” he said of the two morning menus.

Around that same time, the rooftop space will undergo its own makeover.

Joining Wolf are new director of food & beverage Nerelis Moreno and new general manager Ciarán Gardiner, a trio that is tasked with leading The Bohemian’s comprehensive culinary program, a revamp whose goal is “enhancing the dining experience by creating an immersive environment where customers can appreciate both the food and the culture from which it originates.”

A TRUE COOK’S TOUR

“If you had told me three months before my wife and I were in Savannah with our daughter that we would be living in Savannah,” Wolf recalled with another smile. “I probably would have laughed you out of whatever room we were in.”

click to enlarge Bohemian Hotel opens Coastal 15 with Executive Chef Luke Wolf at the helm
Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront

“I’m a Yankee. I never saw it coming,” he continued.

After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, Wolf did “the cook’s tour” in New York City, working up to an executive sous chef position before, frankly, “burning out.”

He and his wife, Rachel, moved to Hawaii where she finished her graduate degree in acupuncture while he took a line cook position at Taormina Sicilian Cuisine in Waikiki.

A self-described “fan of education,” Wolf himself wanted to go back to school and did so, earning his MBA in Food Marketing at Saint Joseph's University’s Erivan K. Haub School of Business.

“When we moved back to Philly,” he said, “I was already enrolled in that program and needed to find a job that was going to allow me a little more flexibility.”

Unable to be a full-time chef and a full-time student, this was the “catalyst” that got him into club cooking, and Wolf subsequently honed his culinary craft over a decade of private club kitchen experience in the Greater Philadelphia area.

He met Billy Garbacz, general manager of Sunnybrook Golf Club (Plymouth Meeting, PA), who was its executive chef at the time.

click to enlarge Bohemian Hotel opens Coastal 15 with Executive Chef Luke Wolf at the helm
Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront

“I sat down with him and told him that I was a student and that if he could offer me some flexibility with scheduling, I would offer him a rockstar chef,” Wolf said.

He served as chef de cuisine at Sunnybrook for four-plus years before becoming executive chef at The Springhaven Club (Wallingford, PA), where he met its then general manager, Jim Galvano.

During Wolf’s half-year stint as the executive catering chef for Di Bruno Bros., Galvano had moved to Savannah to manage The Oglethorpe Club and came calling. He wanted Wolf to follow him south and to join him on Gaston Street and “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

“That’s what I always say,” said Wolf, retelling the tale. “Use those words precisely.”

Now an adopted son of the Hostess City, he said that he is “very excited about the potential for Coastal 15 and the opportunity to grow and to serve a larger demographic in Savannah.”

Coastal 15 (102 West Bay Street in The Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront) is open daily for breakfast (7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and dinner (5 p.m. to 10 p.m.), plus bar service available 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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