CLASSICS renewed, from the menu to the building, is the best way to describe Savannah Spirits Chop House.
Upon stepping into the massive building that sits on the corner of Whitaker and West State streets, you will notice original Savannah Grey brickwork, art deco inspired fixtures, and wood that has been refurbished and repurposed from the old buildings.
I say “buildings,” because the restaurant and distillery of Savannah Spirits comprises four separate structures that initially, built around 1860, housed several different businesses.
The first two floors hold seating for hungry patrons. The first floor is where the main kitchen can be found along the with distillery. On the second floor is a private dining area and an upscale whiskey bar. The top floor, complete with its own balcony, will be a site for private events.
Executive Chef Peter Schott is the brain behind the menu, which can only be described as a modern approach to chop house classics. Do not expect to dine at the Chop House and get tired, boiled shrimp cocktail sitting atop a martini glass of bottled cocktail sauce, or a butter drowned steak plopped beside a foiled over-baked potato and some runny creamed spinach, which everyone has probably experienced.
Chef Schott’s menu starts innovative and fresh and ends similarly—a product of the fact that he “has been cooking for over thirty years,” he explains.
He has cooked in a wide array of kitchens including Savannah Quarters, the First City Club, and even owned his own restaurant in New York.
The shrimp cocktail you’ll enjoy is inspired by the Chef’s love of Hispanic cuisine. He says he is “really into tacos,” and a nod to this love is obvious in the style of shrimp cocktail he created.
Dubbed the Baja Style Shrimp Cocktail, the starter arrives at your table bright and bold in both flavor and appearance. Giant sweet coastal shrimp are coated and cooked in a special sauce and served atop bright avocado mash and cilantro with a melody of pickled red onion, fresh jalapenos, radish, and cucumber.
This dish has everything you could want, crunch, creaminess, spice, sweetness, tang, and all of the fresh flavors of the vegetables.
Just like the shrimp cocktail, the Tuna Tartare is nothing close to a boring. For his rendition, Chef Schott says he “played with the flavors of borscht,” which is apparent in the use of beetroot and hard boiled eggs.
The beets were selected as the co-star to the tuna because they can stand up to the rich meaty fish, and in-fact become the star of the dish. Cooked down, removing all of the earthy notes, the beets are tender and melt away in you mouth in an identical manner as the delicate raw fish, making the two almost indistinguishable.
The starter is tossed in light horseradish creme fraiche that coats your palate with just enough fat without overpowering anything else. To finish the dish, a sprinkling of grated egg and dill.
The Lamb Meatballs offer a heartier starter than the two counterparts mentioned above. The plateful is served artfully arranged with an array of accompaniments that almost resemble a Pollock painting, almost—and I mean almost—too pretty to eat.
Your fork will glide through the delicate lamb meatballs before loading it up with the layers of punchy pesto, crispy cabbage, aromatic almonds, earthy eggplant, golden raisins, and a ton more. Although there are more ingredients than I can include each one works in harmony with the other, not overpowering the last.
For one of the mains, Chef Schott has included a meatier fish that can take just as much as a leading role as a steak. The Grilled Atlantic Swordfish Fillet looks picturesque, served with grill marks created by Chop House’s six-foot woodfire grill, which I’m told by Chef Schott “is the anchor of the kitchen” and menu.
Chef Schott’s current use of wood with the grill is “red oak” because it a “good burning” wood, meaning that it burns slower than most.
Plated next to the fish is a side that is influenced by caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dish comprised of a cooked vegetable salad. The swordfish itself is juicy, with a tickle of smoke, but is only boosted by the complex and deep flavors of the caponata which brings a warm homey feel to the entree.
The final touch, which you would expect from a seasoned chef, is a grilled half of a lemon, the addition of which brings brightness to slice through the warmth.
Chef Schott’s approach to steak is awe-inspiring with a lack of dilution and a textbook preparation. It says a lot about a Chef (and a restaurant) willing to serve their steak with very little to accompany it on the plate.
Out of all of the beef, I tried the Prime Center Cut Filet, but as you can imagine, the Chop House has plenty of beef options to satisfy your taste. Simply prepared, which is bold for any chef, the filet is salt and peppered with a thoughtful hand, seared exquisitely on the woodfire grill, and finished with a careful amount of herb butter.
The wood fire adds a whisper of smoke and a textbook charred crust while keeping the center of the steak delicate and tender. Plated with the steak, a lightly charred onion and tomato, both acting to balance any fat the steak presents.
Of course, if you want more food to go with your steak, the restaurant offers plenty of delectable options as side items.
Chef Schott puts it perfectly: “The food is a lot more than just steaks, it is more about clean crisp flavors.”
Which means you will come in for a steak and be pleased to discover the depth and complexity of Chef Schott and Chop House’s menu.