SECRET DREAMS and hidden desires often stay tucked safely away during the tempestuous ride of youth while one concentrates on making a living, establishing a firm financial footing for the future.
Then along comes middle-age, creeping up with uncomfortable reminders that times-a-wastin’ and starts one thinking that perhaps our current situation is not really what we want.
Blame it on the restlessness of approaching middle-age, or the momentum of a family background steeped in good cooking and ownership in several eateries that always featured great Southern cuisine, but Royce Patrick was feeling the itch to make those secret dreams a reality.
Royce’s hometown, Twin City, GA, is a tiny hamlet surrounded by lush woods, peaceful lakes and a welcome sign that reads, “Twice as Friendly, Twice as Nice!” Even though Royce had made his way to the big city of Birmingham to found a prosperous career in car rentals, those whispering pines of Georgia still called to him to return.
When his brother Ricky opened Bevrick’s in Metter, he decided that maybe it was time to revisit his Lowcountry roots and lend a helping hand in the catering and cooking and soon, ah yes, those dreams of his began to take a firmer shape in his mind and heart.
Port Wentworth is nobody’s idea of Foodie Central, but, like Twin City, it is small, and in need of someplace you can go for a drink and dinner, or a lunch repast with more choices than a Wendy’s burger.
Located just beyond the familiar Appleby’s and Carey Hilliards, tucked behind the Days Inn & Super-8, way out on Hwy 21/Augusta Rd., is Royce Patrick’s dream brought into the real world: Sweet Tea Grille. Though October saw the celebration of their second year, it was so sequestered away that it even escaped my roving foodie eye and only came into view through a Facebook friend-of-a-friend’s “Like” for their business page.
Gathering together old family recipes, filtering Southern favorites into a menu that is both comforting yet unique, Royce, who is not only owner of the Sweet Tea Grille, but also Chef, has created a neat little gem out there in Port Wentworth that Savannah foodies would do well to investigate.
I like Royce’s twist on familiar favorites, like his take on the humble nachos: made with freshly pulled confit of duck, fruit salsa and cilantro. Eggrolls are found from Chili’s to any corner Asian dive, but Royce turns out his unique Soul Rolls stuffed with pulled pork, black-eyed peas, rice, fresh onion, and chopped collard greens and serves them with a tangy peach chutney and spicy mustard.
Dips and dunks are common fare, but his ”Southern Salsa”—called “Redneck Caviar”—a heaping helping of black eyed peas, corn, tomatoes, onion, and jalapeños, or the family recipe Pimento Cheese served with Red Pepper Jelly, are definitely different.
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Southern girl who loves shrimp n’ grits, something I keep an eye out for on local menus. Here you can find three versions: with tender shrimp over cheddar stone-ground grits and smothered in a delicate, buttery milk gravy; pulled pork from an in-house smoked Boston Butt surrounded by collard greens and garnished with onion hay, or blackened tilapia with a rosy red garland of fresh tomatoes and okra—all of them mouth-wateringly good.
If you’re a devout foodie who needs to use some restraint in trying new items (for reasons of either weight or finances!), it helps to bring along a burger buff who can order up this goodie and also be kind enough to offer you a big bite! My son was happy to come along to give the Sweet Tea Grille Burger a try: a BIG half-pound of fresh-made ground sirloin, topped with pimento cheese, pepper jelly, smoky bacon, crispy lettuce, tomato, and red onion, gifted us with an incredible array of flavors. Sunday-Friday has Country-Cookin’ Lunches added to the menu, with traditional Meat ‘n’ 3, all fresh-made daily.
The kind and knowledgeable manager, Lindsey Bland, was dining on a big, juicy rib-eye, and told me that, as picky as she was about steak, this was a long-time favorite dish, for the perfection of the seasonings, tenderness and full flavor. My daughter goes for chicken dishes anywhere, and picked the Junkyard Chicken—think “everything but the kitchen sink”—piled high with grilled onions, peppers, and succulent mushrooms, two cheeses, crispy bacon, fresh jalapeno peppers, and diced tomatoes—you can ask for even more additions (pulled pork, pimento cheese, etc.) as you wish.
Sweet Tea Grille includes a full bar, stocked with fine drafts like Abita Amber, Sweetwater 420 and Southbound Belgian White ale, a wine list, and favorite Southern cocktails such as the whomp-yer-ass Back Porch Brew made with Troy & Sons Moonshine, or the more traditional Chatham Artillery Punch.