I have to be very honest.
When I made the decision to take a ride over to Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room on Jones Street last Monday morning, I wasn’t mentally prepared for what I thought I would see.
I knew the dining room was scheduled to re-open for business; I knew there would be a lot of smiles, but what I didn’t expect was the energy in the room to be what it was.
Not at all.
It had been nearly two years since what is arguably Savannah’s most popular restaurant closed its dining room to patrons in March of 2020.
Since then, plenty of fans still showed up for take out. Plenty more showed up to sit at one of the tables that had been set up along the sidewalk on Jones St.
That’s pretty much the way it had been for nearly 24 months as we all waited for the world to get back to normal.
Add to that, the restaurant had taken their normal winter break this year. They were closed all of January and February.
If you love visiting Savannah, is there really any more “normal” than the dining room at Mrs. Wilkes re-opening? Well, beyond the return of that parade thingy we got coming down the ’pike in a couple of weeks, I would say not.
Welcome back, Mrs. Wilkes.
“I was afraid we’d never come back.” were Marcia Thompson’s first words to me after I got a hug. The joy in the back dining room was palpable.
For those who aren’t familiar, Marcia’s grandmother was Sema Wilkes. The young lady who started it all, once upon a time. Since then, the tradition has clearly carried on just as Mrs. Wilkes herself did when she ran the operation.
Marcia would much rather be doing this than watching “Friends” re-runs, which is what she told me she spent a lot of their two month break doing.
The food was moving out fast. Guests who had lined up outside were filing it, circa 2019. Savannah’s most famous fried chicken and all that is served with it was at the tables when they sat. Meanwhile, Marcia made her usual rounds, thanking every table for choosing to dine with them and asking where everyone was visiting from. There’s some more ‘normal’ for you if you are keeping score.
Both dining rooms were open. Both dining rooms were full. If you are still squeamish about being around other people while this mess lingers, then you may want to wait before you visit. Monday was full. Monday was day one. It will only get more full.
There is no private dining area at Mrs. Wilkes with tables 6 feet apart.
What there is, is all the food Savannah and so many of its visitors have come to love. Can you imagine how good it smelled in there?
For the record, I did not eat. Though I am going to very soon.
I was as excited a school boy who’d just been passed a note by that cute fourth grader. It was such a sight to see: a Savannah institution back on its feet, which ultimately puts us—as I mentioned already—one step closer to normal. However, that is going to be defined.
There was a lot of food flying out. I asked a very busy staffer if serving inside, family-style is any easier than having to pack up every order to go out the door as it had been for a while.
“No, this is much harder.” she said as she caught her breath and kept moving.
It doesn’t take much to realize how hard this crew works to make it all go smoothly. Both in food service, but also clean up.
I cannot tell you the number of times I drove up Jones Street 30-40 beyond closing time only to see an impeccable sidewalk with no real signs that there had been a few hundred people eating there only two hours before.
So, a big shout-out to everyone at Mrs. Wilkes for navigating that long road back. We are all looking forward to Eating and Liking It.