Wright Square Bistro settles into weekend dinner service

Southern charm can be found around every corner of the Savannah, in the serene and verdant squares, overhead in the live oak canopy, on the faces of antebellum buildings. Mes excuses à pockets of Charleston and New Orleans, the singularly attractive appeal here is the best any city not along the Seine itself comes to replicating the ambience of Paris’s arrondissements.


Those strolling along West York Street as the sun sets might well think that they are in the Latin Quarter, particularly if they peer into #21.


Michael Higgins and Tod Whitaker bought what was Wright Square Café three years ago this week, at which time they immediately rebranded the marquee, replacing Café with Bistro on the front window, and reimagined the entire menu.


Back in January, the partners expanded their eatery’s operations to include Friday and Saturday dinner service, offering a carte of scratch-made Southern-inspired starters and main courses.


The fare is decidedly elevated Coastal Empire homespun, and the bistro’s interior feels like France with two and four-tops in an attractive and cozy but surprisingly spacious dining room that seats more than two dozen diners.


Call it dinner in The Hostess City of Light.

click to enlarge Wright Square Bistro settles into weekend dinner service
Michael Higgins


A BONA FIDE BISTRO

In name only, a café is a place for simple food and drink served primarily during the day. Becoming a bistro intentionally positioned Higgins and Whitaker to secure an alcoholic beverage license and to envision eventually adding dinners.


Brought back by Jesse Blanco, January of 2024’s Eat It and Like It Restaurant Week was the right time for the bistro duo to turn ‘eventually’ into ‘right now’.


Whitaker said that the experience was “very good. That’s why we continued dinner service.”


“It went very well,” Higgins agreed. “It’s a growing segment of our business, and we are thoroughly enjoying it because it gives a chance to be a little bit more creative, a little more in-depth with our dishes.”


For the last three years, the Bistro’s daytime fare has been the work of Whitaker, calling on a lifetime in the food industry and a few Cooks’ Illustrated classics.


“He is dinner,” Whitaker said plainly of chef Patrick Carruthers, who came into the kitchen four months back and has been at the helm of the evening menus. “His food style is brilliant. It’s been very bistro-minded.”


“He does an amazing steak,” Whitaker continued. “His mussels are amazing. His risotto has been amazing.”


“Yeah, that goes off really well,” the chef said with a humble smile.


Carruthers added that “kind of everything” is part and parcel of the concept. “When we think ‘bistro’, we hit every bit that we can as far as the word goes.”


The “basic structure” of the dinner menu “changes out every two weeks,” per Higgins, “so there is always something for everyone’s taste, or so we hope.”


Sharing space on the same dinner menu with a bistro-apropos numéro of items - six starters and salads, five entrées, and two desserts - are Carruthers’ Gullah-inspired short rib, Whitaker’s meatloaf, and what the latter called Higgins’ “stupidly popular” Brunswick stew.

“People go nuts for that, that’s for sure,” Carruthers agreed, and last week, a table of diners came back the following night just to have Tod’s Meatloaf.


“It’s simple but it’s Southern,” Whitaker said of the cuisine’s essence and the focus on hospitality. “Fried okra, shrimp risotto, things that are local like shrimp salad stuffed tomatoes, things that are seasonal.”


On the horizon are fried green tomatoes and shrimp-and-corn chowder, and Carruthers & Co. are committed to “doing french fries right”: cut, blanched, and double-fried in a très authentique très petit kitchen.

click to enlarge Wright Square Bistro settles into weekend dinner service
Michael Higgins



SAVANNAH LE SOIR: RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED

At three o’clock on Fridays and Saturdays, the WSB team stops full lunch service and offers a limited menu of cheese boards and sandwiches for the next two hours.


“We stop the fryer and go to everything coming out of the sandwich station, giving the kitchen a break until we go to full dinner, which we start at five o’clock,” said Whitaker.


He and Higgins virtually finished each other’s sentences, separately sharing that they have enjoyed dinner service entirely, so much so that they are already considering adding Thursday night.


Folks are not “in a rush,” said Whitaker, and early returns suggest that dinner diners have been split evenly between those visiting Savannah and those who live here. He credits the latter to local groups who come in quarterly for lunches, coffee and book and theater clubs, and the bistro’s being situated in the heart of Lawville.


“Dinner is a much more relaxed environment,” Higgins echoed, mentioning the growth in sales of full bottles of wine, which will soon be fully sourced and stocked by Mary Taylor Wine.


“Mary has the largest woman-owned wine-importing business in the country,” he happily shared. “She focuses on small family-owned vineyards, mostly organic. She has great depth in her selections, but she’s trying to keep wine approachable.”


That means no $150 bottles at this bistro.


“It’s enabling us to keep our wines affordable, but they are outstanding,” said Higgins. “They just don’t have the everyday name recognition.”


A 7:45 p.m. final seating means that Higgins, Whitaker, and their kitchen crew are not cleaning up close to midnight only to come back in at nine the next morning to prepare for the lunch crowd.


click to enlarge Wright Square Bistro settles into weekend dinner service
Michael Higgins

COASTAL CHIC AND CHEAPER THAN MOST

In a charming walkable downtown nook that is on but slightly hidden from the proverbial beaten path, Wright Square Bistro is unique, and its dinner prices, especially the entrées, are far better than reasonable.


An amuse-bouche is served every night, each main course comes with salad, and no main on the most recent menu was even close to $30.


“I can’t promise it forever,” Higgins said with a smile, “but as we are working to build our dinner business and also as we’re working on new menu items, it enables us to have a bit of fun.”


The payoff for patrons of Wright Square Bistro’s All-star lineup of proximate purveyors appears in the prices. Baguettes, croissants, and breads from Auspicious Bakery Co. accompany the house-made chicken, egg, pasta, and tuna salads and bookend a proper bistro burger. Other dishes feature Claxton Chicken, Davis Produce, and Dubberly’s shrimp.


Whitaker said that desserts baked by Donna’s Delicious Delights and Wicked Cakes “have been very popular.”


En tout, this cleverly curated program conveys the owners’ desire to host twice-weekly dinner parties in their homey restaurant.


“I like to stay present in the dining room,” Carruthers said. “It makes a connection from the dining room to the kitchen.”


“We try to make sure that I’m freed up to touch every table,” Whitaker added. “Patrick comes out, Michael’s around, and our servers are wonderful.”


Three years into ownership and three months into dinner service, he said that a challenge for some remains parking, but c’mon y’all. That cannot and should never be an excuse true Savannahians give for forgoing all that is on offer north of Victory, especially a little touch of France a few feet from Wright Square.



Wright Square Bistro (21 West York Street) is open Sunday (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), and Friday and Saturday (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) with dinner service available from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.


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