The one and only time either of us have been to the south was in 2011 when our flight was grounded in Atlanta due to a freak winter storm. We braved the ice and took the tram into the city to stay in a hotel. That was, until now, our only exposure. We’d always wanted to do a southern road trip through the US, but it always ranked pretty low on our list compared to other trips. So when Alex found out he’d be at Emory for the month we jumped on the opportunity to go on a mini-road trip, and tie it in with our 1-year anniversary. Of course, we have our…perceptions of the south, which we knew were likely very far from accurate. So flew from Cleveland to Charleston excited for our first southern experience.
We flew to Charleston instead of Savannah directly because it was easier, cheaper, afforded us the opportunity to glimpse another city, and eat at Leon’s, the perfect culinary start to our trip. First impressions, Charleston (and Savannah) are particularly evocative of what we’d imagine the south to look like. Which, as Americans, visual confirmation of prior expectations is apparently important to us. Or so our Moroccan driver told us on our honeymoon. And, I think it’s true. There’s something oddly satisfying when a place is visually what you expect and evocative of your pre-conceptions (in this case, wide streets, colorful historic houses, old trees dripping in moss). I could not say why this is a particularly American attribute, except somehow I imagine it’s related to our consumerist, commercial understanding of the world (we got what we paid for? And we like that?). I really don’t know. But, we we did enjoy exploring both small cities by foot, wandering the idyllic streets.
As an aside, we were also surprised but the lack of southern accents. They existed, certainly, but most the people we talked too didn’t have them. For whatever that’s worth. Also, we encountered some of the worst drivers we’ve ever had the unpleasant experience of driving with, primarily, they were illogically aggressive. There are signs on the roads that say “keep moving, merge later.” Which does not bode well for driving capabilities. We’ll see how that unfolds over the course of this month.
After an early dinner (late lunch?) in Charleston we headed south to Savannah where we checked into our adorable B&B and wandered around looking for second dinner and drinks. The humidity was astounding. I wore pants, it was a terrible decision. But, we managed to snag two bar seats at Treylor Park near the water where we enjoyed well made cocktails and food that likely filled our caloric allotment for the weekend (it was delicious). We also shared the company of a gentleman who, clearly confused by the pseudo-diviness of the place wandered in, asked for a Bud (was told they didn’t carry that), then asked for a Bud light (also, nope), asked for something similar, was given PBR, found it not to his liking, paid and left. I was generally under the impression that people who liked terrible beer would not have discerning tastes between various beers that more or less taste like water. Apparently, I was wrong. The more you know?
The next day, the day we chose to celebrate our anniversary, we woke up early to go for a quick run (and learned what it means to be a runner in the south: constant state of extreme sweatiness). By the time we headed to breakfast, it was pouring rain, a theme for the first half of our day. At breakfast we had an awkward conversation with a couple also staying at the B&B. It went something like this.
Couple: “Where are ya’ll from?” (in a throughly satisfying southern accent)
Us: “Dublin, Ireland”
Couple (plus random couple across the room): “ohhhh!” (they all seemed excited)
Us: “But we’re Americans. We just live in Ireland right now.”
Couple: “Oh…” (other couple lost interest upon realizing we are not, in fact, Irish-which you’d think our accents would give away…,). “Where in the states do you live?”
Us: Pause (mild confusion, having just said we live in Ireland)…”well, we were living in San Francisco.”
Couple: “Oh.” Ends conversation, goes back to talking to each other.
We both have no idea what happened. The next morning, they specifically sat at a different table. Maybe we weren’t friendly? Regardless, it was strange.
After breakfast we wandered around Savannah in the rain, which, was not unpleasant. Rain in Dublin usually means cold and wind, but here the rain kept the temperature mild. We wandered the requisite historic district, dried off with macchiatos, bought some honey at Savannah Bee Company where we also did a mead tasting. I’ve only had mead a few times before, but wouldn’t have said I particularly liked it, though enjoyable enough (I mean, it’s alcoholic honey). But this tasting revealed how light and refreshing mead can be, a few even tasted closer to beer than wine, and none were syrupy sweet. After, we wandered to lunch at the Australian owned Collins Quarter, who prided themselves on their avocado toast. In the NYT 36 hours they boasted about the toast, and how it wasn’t a thing Americans did. Our follow-up question was, have you not been to California (or New York, or…a lot of places) in the past decade? So, we had high expectations for this revolutionary avocado toast. It was delicious (as was the moroccan scramble, and I assume everything on the menu). But certainly, nothing new.
With the rain still unrelenting, we did the most sensible thing. We went brewery hopping. Savannah has a few excellent breweries and we figured it was the perfect rainy day activity. We first visited Coastal Empire Beer Co in the industrial area of town. It’s a tiny brewery only distributing to Georgia, but has some excellent beers, and super friendly staff. After, we headed to the popular Southbound Brewery, which was impressively crowded for three in the afternoon. They have a minimum tasting, which is a great value, and ends up being the equivalent of three very generous (probably in reality 4) pints of beer for $10. I’m not sure how all those people were getting home, but we ended up abandoning half our tickets after sampling most of the menu. By this time the weather cleared up, so we had another, less damp wander through the historic district before dinner.
For our anniversary dinner we went to The Grey, which we’d heard about through Bon Appétit’s 50 best new restaurants, and later on a chef profile in the New York Times. It was so. good. One of the better meals we’ve had in awhile, plus top-notch drinks. And the best beef heart I’ve ever had (I’m a huge fan). The best part? The whole meal (including drinks) was under $100. I’m not sure how it’s possible to have a dinner that good be that inexpensive, but I certainly wish more places could deliver that sort of quality at that price point. It was a perfect anniversary dinner.
From there we headed to Atlanta. This time, without snow. And our first glimpse of the city? We love it. We’re living in Virginia Highland, which is an adorable neighborhood with access to the cities best food centers (and there is a lot of good food here), and near ample miles of running trails and parks. Though it’s hot and humid it isn’t terrible (and I’ll take hot and humid any day over cold). The traffic is theoretically terrible, but the commute to Emory is 8 minutes, and there’s a Whole Foods within walking distance, so it hasn’t impacted us really. Plus cost of living is absurdly low given the amenities of the city. We’ll see after being here a month, but so far, loving it.
So, this west coast couple is throughly impressed so far with the South, and expect to have a great September exploring what Atlanta has to offer.