THE Starland District is getting its very own pizza place.
Squirrel’s opens this Friday at 2218 Bull St. The owner and chef, Chris Dickerson, comes to Savannah from Jacksonville, Florida.
Chef Dickerson has created a menu that’s at once complex and approachable. All the pizzas are fired with pecan wood and feature diverse ingredients.
Connect was lucky enough to get a preview of the exciting new menu, and we spoke with Chef Dickerson about it last week.
What sets your restaurant, and your pizza, apart from others?
Neither the restaurant nor the pizza is authentic to any particular style. I think of authenticity as being authentic to myself—my experiences, my travels, and what I’m feeling now. Our pizza has less water than Neapolitan, and it’s cooked for longer. It also conveys a sense of place; utilizing Southern pecan wood, rather than the traditional oak. We also stick to mostly American ingredients, not Italian.
Tell me about the thought behind the menu. How long did you spend planning it? What was your approach to the creation process like?
Our guiding principle is to make food that is delicious. We don’t care about winning any awards or impressing other chefs. No pretense. No boundaries. We want to always evolve, always improve, and always question whether or not there’s a better way. Most wood fired pizza restaurants follow a rigid set of standards, in an attempt to adhere to Neapolitan traditions.
That has created a real opportunity, in my opinion, to explore methods and ingredients which usurp the dogma. The zeitgeist of Italian cuisine is hyper local. It doesn’t make sense, then, that I would ship flour and tomatoes 5,000 miles when I can source amazing tomatoes from the U.S. Our flour is milled in North Carolina and is non-GMO and very consistent.
I don’t really “plan” a menu. Every time I eat out, I get new ideas—even if it’s what flavor combinations not to combine. Sometimes I’ll get an idea from seemingly random places. For example, I have all kinds of citrus trees at my house—blood orange, Meyer lemon and yuzu. I might walk by a flowering yuzu plant while I’m drinking a red wine that smells a bit like blackberries. If the smell combination is intriguing, the taste combination would likely be also. I just always try to be as in touch with my senses as I can be and tune out the noise of other people saying, “You gotta do this,” or “You need to do that.”
Do you have plans to expand the menu as Squirrel’s settles in, or will you run with a fixed menu?
We’re really going to listen to our customers, not dictate what they should want or have. I can tell you though, if I’m not proud of it or if I wouldn’t consume it, we won’t serve it. I’ll never apologize for that. No high fructose corn syrup. Nothing hydrogenated.
It looks like you partner with a lot of local purveyors. How did you choose which ones to use, and why is local sourcing important?
We would love to buy everything local, though it’s not as practical as it should be. It’s hard to explain to guests that if we were to only buy local, they wouldn’t have salad for about 4 months each year. They wouldn’t have tomatoes for even longer.
Local just tastes better. Would you rather have a tomato that’s shipped 2,000 miles in a refrigerated truck with tons of discordant produce, or buy one that’s ripened on the vine a few miles from where you live, picked the day before you eat it? Local vegetables, basically, have more time to ripen and develop before you eat them.