When most folks think about Byrd Cookie Company, it's gorgeous tins of buttery treats that come to mind. Pork tenderloin accompanied by a fine pinot, not so much. Or rather, not yet.
Those who have visited Byrd headquarters on Waters Avenue recently already know there's more coming out of the kitchen than those amazing benne wafers. The 90-year-old bakery launched an intriguing but limited menu of small plates and entrées last year in a sumptuously-designed modern space, becoming a fast favorite of local epicures and ladies who lunch.
After a few shake-ups and regroups, the restaurant has now grown full-size gossamer wings, rebranded with a new menu, new management and a new chef. Paying homage to two generations of cookie maestros named Benjamin Tillman Byrd while introducing Savannah to a whole new palette of flavor profiles, B. Tillman might be the most cosmopolitan dining experience south of DeRenne has ever seen.
"Our goal is that instead of taking a left to go downtown to dine, people who live in Ardsley Park and midtown will turn right and come this way," says general manager Joey Rosen, a charming addition to the front of the house. "It's the same distance. And we've got a lot to show you."
White leather booths and seagrass chairs create an elegant Lowcountry ambience that reflects the exquisite taste of Byrd scion and current CEO Stephanie Lindley. A local fashion icon, Lindley has imbued the B. Tillman interior with a signature style that's both chic and cozy, with throw pillows in the corner and historic black and white photos on the walls.
The room is bisected by dark shelves, shaping the former Lowe's into several intimate nooks:
Several hi-tops face a big screen TV and tabletop Ms. PacMan in one hidden area, a relaxed lounge emerges out of another.
A grand pergola presides over the "party booth," a massive square table that seats 12.
"We worked to create different environments within the space," explains Katie Wells, Byrd's Director of Customer Experience. "Every seat here is another 'a-ha' moment."
Of course, a restaurant's most important epiphanies must be culinary. After a nationwide search, B. Tillman has imported Executive Chef Cameron Cheney via the award-winning Riverhorse on Main in Park City, UT. Before that, Chef Cheney trained on the line at Five & Ten in Athens with celebrity chef and soon-to-be Savannah proprietor Hugh Acheson.
Chef Cheney brings what he modestly calls his "Southern-infused French thing" to the B. Tillman menu, which he plans to switch up regularly.
"I got very used to changing it up all the time under Hugh," he grins, stepping out of the kitchen for a moment in his chef's whites.
"People who come to eat every week can expect new things. I want to give them something new to try every time they visit."
The current menu already reflects some of his scrumptious revelations: Our party began with a bowl of carrot jalapeño soup, sautéed and blended to order; it's served with a dollop of crème fraîche and a slice of pickled pepper for just the right amount of bite. That was followed by tuna tartare, served with wonton crisps and citrus slices that played perfectly off the fish.
Other standout starters ($3-13) were the roasted root vegetable salad (atop a bed of frisée and dressed with a tangy herbed cream laced with anchovy) and a rich, locally-sourced chicken paté with toast points. The marriage of pecorino, parmesan and cheddar in the truffle mac & cheese was divine (and probably illegal in several states.) Alas, we had to skip the summery-sounding melon salad (cantaloupe, honeydew and pineapple with feta) to save room.
Entrées ($14-$26) are generous and visually stunning. After recommendations from our server, Ms. Wells and the chef himself, one of us ordered the aforementioned pork tenderloin, braised to a sweet molasses crackle and served with seared mustard greens and pasta-like spaetzle, the very definition of German comfort food. Chef Cheney's Southern roots showed off in the flounder, tender and flaky, topped with a crawfish emulsion and flanked by collard greens and sweet cornbread pudding.
The CAB burger, stacked high with a thick fried green tomato, took a bit of deconstruction to manage, but was perfectly cooked and satiated one of our resident carnivores. The grilled sirloin arrived still sizzling and pink in the middle for the other. Ambition is all well and good, but what really matters is execution: Chef Cheney clearly has a skilled eye on every dish going out his swinging door.
B. Tillman boasts a full bar (with an afternoon snack menu to match) and a small but thoughtfully curated wine list. The lunch menu features smaller portions of dinner favorites as well as savory sandwiches. The dessert specials are a rotating merry-go-round of confectionary marvels (the four of us made quick work of a raspberry crème brulée.)
Sunday brunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) provides reason to crawl out of bed, namely brioche French toast with strawberry-mint compote and Eggs Benedict atop house-made crumpets.
B. Tillman is just one facet of Byrd Cookie Company's ever-expanding venture: The Cookie Shop next door remains a busy retail destination, as does the hopping City Market store that opened last October. Coming soon is B.T. Byrd's, a coffee/wine/nibbles bar located in the first floor of the newly-spruced Drayton Tower. Outside Savannah, Byrd cookies can be found at Delta Sky Clubs in airports around the globe.
What this means is that Byrd Cookie Company has gone beyond snack food to bona fide foodie culture. Byrd President Geoff Repella attributes this total palate domination to "the alchemy of five generations working in the same business."
"We want to be part of the conversation in Savannah all day long," smiles Repella.
"And we want to share Savannah with the rest of the world." cs