Gottlieb's Restaurant and Dessert Bar
Art of the Meal
In the comic strip "Mutts," the two faithful dog-and-cat pals are forever enthralled with an appropriately named butcher shop: The Fatty Snax Deli. They hang on the gruff proprietor's every muscle twitch, hoping against hope that some small tidbit - a crisp exterior trimming, a sausage link - might be tossed their way.
After visiting Gottlieb's in Savannah, I felt a certain kinship with them. Oh, sure, it's a fine and fancy place, beautifully turned out in the most modern urban design, but sitting there in my dress-up clothes, using my best manners and proper cutlery, I really just wanted to cultivate a friendship with Richard, Laurence and Michael Gottlieb. Then I could hang around their kitchen, appearing to follow every word, all while patiently waiting for the extra breadcrumb or cookie that might find its way down my gullet.
Despite its sophistication, Gottlieb's can inspire that kind of naked greed. The restaurant's roots stretch far into Savannah's past, with the opening of Gottlieb's Bakery, on the corners of York and Jefferson, by two Russian ?migr?s in 1884. The bakery became a local institution, moving and expanding several times over the years, while imprinting its signature cookie, the chocolate chewie, on the memory of every native. Finally, in 1994, however, Gottlieb's closed, a victim of one-stop grocery store shopping.
The Gottlieb brothers reopened the bakery, along with their namesake restaurant, last year. This time, the family is armed not only with the chewie recipe, but culinary experience and degrees from heavy-hitting schools and kitchens along the East Coast.
They've pulled together the old cakes, pies, breads and cookies with dishes that might have been devised by an adventurous and slightly dotty Savannah hostess: braised Kobe beef short ribs; seared foie gras on a Belgian waffle with "sugar cane gastrique syrup"; barbecued grouper with sweet corn cream and roasted Vidalia onions. Lots of expensive cuts of meats, plenty of Southern sugar without being too sweet, lots of old-style, slow-cooked deliciousness. (Those Savannah hostesses always pull out all the stops!) The amuse bouche, here preciously called a "dainty tidbit," is a T-tiny chicken biscuit of butter-crumbles and a single mouthful of crisp fried gospel bird.
Even in the small plates (called "snacks, munchies and first courses" on the menu), the flavors are expansive and generous: The pan-roasted lobster on Southern corn cake is smothered with light "lobster gravy." The Deep South Dim Sum (I told you: slightly dotty) turns out to be a plank bearing Asian-inspired treats, such as shrimp toast and a steamed bun filled with barbecued brisket, with a squiggle of molasses-sweet soy. Among the entrees, the slow-roasted duck is perfection: rendered of fat, crisp-skinned, moist within. Sweet potato crisps top it off.
As good as these dishes are, the baked goods - in fact, anything containing flour - are better. The basket of bread delivered to your table includes a variety of airy, full-flavored loaves that work as loss leaders for the bakery. (Effective ones, too.) Be sure to save room, however, for dessert: Nothing is worse than the tragedy of a swollen stomach when confronted with this eye-popping array of beauties perched atop their doilies, including red velvet cake, key lime custard in pecan shortbread, the house-made peanut butter cup, and of course, the inevitably delectable chewies.
The bakery is open most days from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you see someone outside, patiently waiting for the brothers to arrive, you'll know who it is.
Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gottlieb's Restaurant and Dessert Bar
1 W. Broughton St.
Hours: Dinner, Mondays-Saturdays
Credit Cards: All Major
Dress code: A little dressy is better, but casual is OK, too.