MANY BELIEVE the original inhabitants of Tybee Island were the Euchee tribe. According to legend, their word for "salt" was tybee.
“Salt Island literally means Tybee Island,” Emily Liebtag, co-owner of Tybee Island’s newest restaurant, Salt Island Fish & Beer, tells me as we sit at the newly renovated bar chatting.
She explains that with the name of the restaurant she and her husband, Chef and co-owner Eric Liebtag, “wanted to pay homage to what came before, and show people they care about the island.”
As for the second portion of the name Fish and Beer, the aim was to cue patrons that the restaurant strives to feature as much local fish and beer as absolutely possible.
On the local side of the beer list, Salt Island offers various craft beers from Savannah’s loved Service Brewery and Coastal Empire Brewery. Other semi-local beers include options from Sweetwater Brewing, Jekyll Brewing, and Oconee Brewing.
The cocktail list is even more impressive and was created by Chef Eric, who “has been running restaurants for over 20 years; he even went to culinary school in London,” Emily says.
Crosby, the assistant manager and bartender, recommends the Ginger & Mary Ann. The cocktail features three different types of rum and is created by shaking pineapple juice with the rum “until the juice gets frothy,” he explains.
Crosby also tells me about the Tybee Island Handshake, a two-fer of a Mexican beer with a shot of tequila, that is on the regular menu but is also part of Salt Island’s happy hour. In addition to a regular happy hour, the store plans on hosting a “reverse happy hour that lasts from 10-11 p.m.,” Crosby elaborates as I sample UFO’s Georgia Peach. Beer such as this one, made specifically for Georgia distribution, is what makes Salt Island’s beer offerings so unique.
When it comes to their food, the Elote was one of the best things I sampled from the menu. Elote is street food that traditionally encompasses fire-roasted corn on the cob smothered with a variation toppings including butter, mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder, and cheese.
For this version, Chef Eric takes the corn off of the cob, making it much easier to eat, and puts a char on the ears before mixing them with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, and fresh cilantro.
Overall the flavor is nutty from the crumbled cotija, but your tongue is quickly bombarded with the smoky flavor of grilled corn before the smooth finish of a creamy and peppery heat.
In ordering the Elote, you have the option to add shrimp. Do it. The skewered shrimp that are served resting atop the bowl of creamy corn are perfectly charred and slathered in fresh herbs.
Cooked perfectly, the shrimp add a buttery sweetness to the already flawless dish.
I have mentioned it before in a past article, but I would not consider myself a big fan of crab cakes. It is so easy to over mix, overfill, or under-cook the delicate dish.
So many chefs skimp on the portion of crab by using every filler ingredient under the sun, which is a shame when the title of the dish cues the eater that the flavor of crab should be front and center.
Chef Eric has done none of those things; instead he challenges himself everyday by hand-picking blue crab meat fresh from the shell to create his flavorful rendition of crab cakes.
Chef Eric “really loves the crab cakes,” and focuses on making them a good as by preparing them fresh everyday “with just jumbo lump crab and not filler, just seasoning.”
Because Emily is from Michigan, the menu pays homage to a nostalgic ingredient, smelt. And although Savannah is a fish and seafood adoring town, many people have never tasted the midwestern delicacy.
Smelt are small in size making them perfect for frying to eat whole. Salt Island’s version pays respect to the fish by serving them fried to a crisp with a side of lemon caper aioli; a perfect fatty yet acidic sauce to equalize the snack.
Emily excitedly explains that many of the items on the menu are labeled as snacks because, “so much of the menu is built to be shareable or as snacks.”
Another midwestern classic included as a snack on the menu is the Smoked Fish Dish. But unlike the midwestern version that traditionally features white fish, Chef Eric uses a fresh local catch: mullet.
To create the dish, Chef Eric first brines the fish and finishes it by smoking it in-house for approximately four hours. On the side comes fresh fried chips that he tops himself with malt vinegar.
Chef Eric elaborates that he likes “to have fun with food, and has been playing around a lot with beer cheese,” a key ingredient in his hush puppies.
The Beer Cheese Hush Puppies come jammed full of the beer cheese made using Cooter brown ale combined with sharp cheddar and pepper jack.
On the side, to balance the bold and savory hush puppies, a sweet and acidic tomato bacon jam is served.
Once Emily and Eric get a bit more settled — considering that before moving to Savannah last year they traveled across the country while Eric opened up various restaurants — they plan on hosting a ton of exciting events at the restaurant.
Saturday and Sunday brunch is one option, as well as Tiki Tuesday with service of traditional Tiki Cocktails and a someone behind the bar spinning records.