BEING A food writer, I’m often confronted with the question, "Which restaurant do you recommend?" As you can imagine, that question has never proffered a straightforward answer.
There are so many variables to consider before lending proper advice: price range, cuisine type, location, ambience, the list goes on. What I can tell you is that my list of contenders almost always includes the same cornerstone group of restaurants, the places I’ve visited multiple times and where I’ve always experienced a consistent dinner service.
The Diner Bar at The Grey has perpetually stayed on my shortlist of go-to’s. The reason is simple—The Diner Bar, which sits at at the front of the old Greyhound station that houses The Grey Restaurant, gives patrons a laidback taste of The Grey without the need for a reservation or a more formal dining experience.
Last year, when I sat down with owner John O. Morisano for an interview on The Grey’s latest venture, The Grey Market, he revealed to me that The Diner Bar would soon be changing its menu.
Although disappointed because I would be losing access to my favorite fried chicken sandwich in all of town, I was elated to have the opportunity to try even more delicious recipes from the mind of truly talented executive chef and Morisano’s business partner, Mashama Bailey.
For those who have had the chicken schnitzel sandwich over at the Diner Bar, do not fret—the new menu of the Diner Bar features Chicken Biscuits & Gravy. Now your list of favorite Savannah chicken biscuits can squeeze in a new contender.
The biscuit is textbook, delicate and fluffy, and includes whole grain mustard that is slathered on top. The idea is to cut through the richness of the oversized crispy chicken thigh that sits between the decadent Southern biscuit that would surely make your grandmother proud.
I asked Morisano about the change and his explanation expedited my grieving of the schnitzel.
He said, “When Mashama and I started The Grey the thing we said is, the thing we want to be known for is not being known for anything. We did not want to have that dish that people came for and you lived in fear of taking it off the menu. It is called the ‘riot dish.’ You take it off and it causes a riot.”
As a lover of all things food, his response excited me. Avoiding a stagnant menu not only keeps the kitchen engaged, but it excites the customers as well. Knowing you’ll receive a consistent experience with the team at The Grey means that you should feel comfortable letting go of your go-to menu item.
Morisano explained the second reason behind the change in menu at The Diner Bar. “The idea was to use ingredients that we have in-house, so that we can streamline the food we are making for the [The Grey] dining room with the food we are making in The Diner Bar.”
Originally The Diner Bar ran its food service with just the charcuterie station and a few other things. As time passed, and the restaurant group became more successful, the ability to expand the menu of The Diner Bar opened.
The Tartare Tartine, a beef tartar created with dry aged beef that is served with crusty house baked sourdough and pickled ginger, is the perfect dish to get a taste of The Grey without the need for a reserved table.
You will find a more refined version of the beef tartar on the dinner menu of The Grey, but as Morisano puts it “this is a down and dirty, slap-it-on-a-piece-of-toast version, and it is delicious.”
My favorite story told by Morisano is how new menu item the Big Dog, a chili, slaw, and mustard smothered beef
One of the new menu items, the Big Dog, named after a rather memorable incident in which a disappointed patron had a few choice words for Morisano, consists of chili, slaw, and a mustard smothered beef hot dog.
Morisano explained that Chef Bailey never considered adding a hotdog to the menu until she tasted the hotdog that sits at the base of this dish.
The Spicy Fried Oysters is a Lowcountry play on Nashville hot chicken.
“The hot oysters are the hottest thing that Mashama has ever had on a menu anywhere. It is a ridiculously delicious plate of food,” Morisano told me, and I am confident in his word on it.
The crispy fried oysters are served with milk bread to cut through the heat of Chef Bailey’s comeback sauce.
A few things have stayed the same at The Diner Bar. The Diner Bar offers raw oysters from all over the eastern American coast. The presentation is simple, a wedge of lemon and mignonette.
With such fresh, clean-flavored oysters the accompaniment does not have to be over the top. I recommend starting your meal with a dozen of each kind offered, especially considering Morisano told me that their raw oyster happy hour is back on the menu.
The cocktails rotate seasonally, but the care and attention placed into each luscious libation has not changed. No matter which cocktail list is available, you will find a happy hour prices until 6 p.m. and a weekly wildcard cocktail offering.
During my last visit I was able to try the Blush wildcard cocktail, a delicate refreshing pink adult beverage shaken with gin, Campari, vermouth, and lime. Past wildcard cocktails have included a spin on a negroni and a spin on the bijou.
Just like our last meeting, during this sit down Morisano filled me in on yet another changing menu. The Grey Market launched a new menu last week.
The first thing Morisano mentioned was the burger—“We are changing the burger around. We are messing with the ratio of beef to bun,” because as Morisano explained it, “What makes the perfect burger is the perfect ratio.”
Other notable new options at The Grey Market include their potato wedges turned into disco fries, lamb birmingham, a pan perdue, and a rotisserie chicken flatbread.
Also, I would be remiss to not mention Chef Bailey’s appearance on the Netflix series, “Chef’s Table” premiering Feb. 22.
You may want to make your reservations or belly up to the Diner Bar before then. Something tells me that it may get a little more difficult to get in after that.