In a city increasingly known for it’s great food, it is always nice to know that you don’t necessarily have to break the bank for a quick lunch.
Half of the battle in navigating our food scene-particularly downtown- is knowing where to go and when is the best time to do so.
I’ve got a short list in my head of places to eat something quick if I am in a hurry downtown. I will probably share that full list another time, but as a quick for example your most convenient Friday lunch downtown is probably a slice at Vinnie Van Go Go’s. I say Friday because that is the only weekday that they are open for lunch.
I haven’t had a slice for lunch at Vinnie’s in a hot minute, but I recall a very huge slice hovering in the $3.75-$4.00 range. They are big. I tried to have 2 one time and struggled to finish the 2nd.
But you know I did.
The other spot you should know about if you don’t know already is Tommy Daniel’s Hot Dog Cart at Johnson Square. Maybe downtown Savannah’s best-kept quick, cheap lunch secret.
Why is it a secret? Well, that’s really anyone’s guess. I mean, you can find a hot dog cart in any city, so if you are a visitor, there is really nothing that says “Savannah” from a cart for lunch, unless you consider the fact that the canopy of trees at Johnson Square can make for a more than enjoyable few minutes if you are looking for a quick bite. And many people do.
Tommy’s been in that spot every day for just about eight years now. He tells me he owes a lot of his success to that consistency.
The cart is mobile, of course, but he has never tried to chase crowds. Just park it here and let the neighborhood know they will always find you in this spot.
He regularly arrives at Bull and Congress, he says, about 9:30 am every day. Too early for a hot dog for most people, but he says he likes to chat with passers by. Visitors or locals. Tommy is always up for a chat, but I happen to think he likes to let the neighborhood know he’s here. Once the lunch hour rolls around, they are more likely to remember if they’ve seen him already.
When that lunch bells rings, sometimes it looks like a scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You very likely know that Johnson Square is surrounded by banks and other offices. They pour out into the square from every direction. It is not uncommon to find a line 4 or 5 people deep waiting on one or more of Tommy’s all beef hot dogs.
They are big too. These aren’t skinny ‘Nathan’s-like’ dogs. They are jumbos.
He cuts them in half (every time) and places them open end down on his griddle. There is no dirty hot dog water to deal with. The cart is essentially required storage for his inventory.
The dogs are grilled ‘open face’ dropped into a bun and wrapped in foil.
Five feet away are your toppings, to include standard ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut, but also chopped onions and jalapenos.
A hot dog and a bottle of water will run you $5. That’s pretty tough to beat downtown.
At the end of the day, a hot dog is a hot dog, right? Let’s not romanticize this all that much.
That’s really only part of the story. The other part is Tommy. If you bring your own chair you could sit there and listen to him talk about the neighborhood and the people in it for hours. There are a hundred stories.
“I’ve seen a handful of bank robberies in progress.” He says. “One time one ran that way, the other time, he ran that way. The police always come to ask what we saw.”
He will also remind you that locals and visitors are regularly not paying attention as they enter the intersection crossing Congress Street.
“I’ve seen a lot of them almost run over.”
If you drive downtown at all, you are very much not surprised.
It is also not surprising that Tommy has done so well here. He says he owns two hot dog carts, the other is permanently parked out on Bull Street out in the 50s. A family member runs that one while he is downtown.
It’s a steady gig he is very much enjoying post-retirement. He was in the trucking industry until 2014. Sitting around doing nothing didn’t work for him, so he looked into a license and turned up downtown.
And now he’s here, grilling dogs every day, enjoying the chats with the regulars and watching the world go by. It’s kinda hard to beat that.
Go see Tommy. You’ll Eat It and Like It.