By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Owner and chef Clif Holt is back in the kitchen at Little Savannah. As sole owner and chef, Holt has a renewed passion for making and keeping it real at the Forest Park eatery. The restaurant has an updated, artsy ambience and a new menu that includes only the best of its past.
I first reviewed Little Savannah Restaurant and Bar in 2005 when the restaurant was two years old. Since that time, it has doubled in size, adding a bar in the space adjacent to the original restaurant. Entering through the bar space, a former church pulpit serves as the hostess stand. A recent remodel brought modern tones of black, red, grey, and silver to the space. Artwork by local artist Tracy McKay adorns the walls with large mirrors reflecting the patrons dining and sipping craft cocktails by candlelight. A lounge space with leather chairs surrounds a table leading to bar tables and an L-shaped bar across from the entrance to the dining room. Here, white tablecloths are set against a backdrop of black banquettes lining each wall, above the original black and white tile floor, with more artwork and mirrors lining the walls.
As a native of Cullman, Alabama, Holt’s passion for food was inspired by his grandmother. He served in the U.S. Navy before pursuing a career in engineering and design. Afterward, he began his culinary career by working with several notable chefs before opening Little Savannah Restaurant and Bar in 2003.
We begin with Spicy Peach Margaritas. Served in a large lowball glass on the rocks with lime and peach garnish, the margarita boasts complex layers of fruit and spice. I also appreciate that there is more cocktail than ice in the glass, making the drink last as both a before dinner drink and through the appetizer course.
As appetizers, we can’t choose one or two. Okra and tomatoes are in season, so we opt for Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, and an LS Crab Cake. The piping hot okra is fried whole and served with a Tabasco aioli. Its crust adheres perfectly to each pod with no air pocket in between, so the crust does not fall off with each bite of these green pods bursting with freshness. Some are small enough to eat whole—the ultimate okra. The tomatoes are fried to the same perfection. Three crisp, golden slices are crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. They are topped with a peach pico and Chipotle aioli with pinkeye peas, baby heirlooms, onion, and corn. It is a mini veggie plate in itself. And the crab cake is chock full of lump crab and little else with just enough batter to hold it together. It is served atop wilted greens and is swimming with fresh crab flavor.
For entrees we pair a bottle of Wild Hog Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 with Sunburst Trout and Heritage Pork Steak. We also pile on an order of Truck Stop Fries because the name is irresistible. The trout may be the best I have ever tasted. The meaty white fish is served glistening atop a bed of roasted beet, carrots, and olives in an orange emulsion coated in quinoa. This not only makes a refreshing accompaniment to the fish, but it also balances it with an acidic citrus zing and both juicy and crunchy textures. The tender, juicy pork steak is served atop creamy bed of blue grits and is topped with a crunchy peach, pea, and corn pico. Both entrees are made even better with the fat cut, golden fries. For dessert we pair a Blueberry and Peach Sopaipilla with Champagne Philippe Gonet Rose, ending the evening on a sweet note.
Little Savannah offers cooking classes where attendees learn professional chefs’ trade secrets. Classes are limited to eight people. No experience is necessary. Classes are hands-on learning experiences. Gift certificates for cooking classes are also available.