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savannah southern food smackdown
paula v. wilkes

Cherry cobbler at Mrs. Wilke's

Cherry cobbler at Mrs. Wilke's

Southern food.  It is good.  No, really, it is.  If you're of the opinion that Southern food is greasy, over-buttered, ham hocked-associated veggies and fried meats, then please join me in The Road Forks' first ever Southern Food Smackdown, starring two venerable locations in that bastion of Southern cuisine, Savannah, Georgia.  In one corner, we have Paula Deen's popular must-visit tourist attraction, The Lady and Sons; and in the other, we have the local favorite, Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room.  It's a match up for the ages. 

The Lady and Sons sign

The Lady and Sons

Paula Deen's sauces

Paula Deen chapstick

Paula Deen seasonings and flavored chapsticks (peach pie, key lime, and banana pudding)

The Story - A+:  Paula Deen's story is perhaps the all-time best chef story.  Now best known for her perkiness, until her mid-forties, Paula Deen suffered from severe agoraphobia.  Since she spent most of her time indoors, she threw herself into her cooking, and after a devastating divorce from her husband, began making money by selling packed lunches to local workers.  She developed a loyal customer base, resulting in her opening a small restaurant, then a larger one, and, now, she has a popular television show, huge line of products (Paula Deen peach pie-flavored chapstick, anyone?), and multiple cookbooks.

Buffet at the Lady and Sons

Buffet

Service/Ambience  - B:  The Lady and Sons is a sprawling, massive restaurant with two wide floors of seating, easily able to hold big tour groups coming through Savannah.  They do not take reservations for small groups but we waited only 5 minutes for our seat and service was good and fast.  Most order the buffet and we did, as well.  

Biscuit

The Lady and Sons biscuit

The Biscuit - A+:  In my humble opinion, a good biscuit is essential to a proper Southern meal.  And, man, did The Lady and Sons deliver.  Ohmyfreakingoodness.  It was buttery, cheesy, and garlicky and fluffy as a cloud on a warm spring day.  I seriously would come back to the restaurant just to order that one biscuit.

Corncake

Corncake with syrup at The Lady and Sons

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

Meat - B+:  Patrick loved the fried chicken.  Loved.  Loved.  Loved.  The restaurant brines the chicken before breading and frying, meaning that it's moist, juicy, flavorful, and still crispy.  Unfortunately, the pulled pork and other meats were unexceptional.

Veggies at The Lady and Sons

Fried green tomatoes

Veggies at The lady and Sons

Veggies at The Lady and Sons

Veggies - C - (bordering on a D+):  The fried green tomatoes were crispy but the batter was flavorless.  I was oh so sad that every single vegetable in the buffet was over-salted.  The macaroni and cheese was bland and stiff, rather than cheesy and creamy.  The creamed corn tasted like it came out of a can and the candied yams were so sweet that I couldn't manage more than one taste.  The best part of my meal was the mixed vegetable casserole which couldn't hold a candle to my own mixed vegetable casserole.

Dessert - D:  To be honest, I can't remember what we ordered for dessert.  I think it was peach cobbler but it may have been apple pie.  Whatever it was, it was included in the buffet, tasted like it came out of a can, and very much disappointed me.

****************************************************************************************************************************

Mrs. Wilkes

Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room

The Story - A:  In 1943, Selma Wilkes opened up a boarding house, a place for workers to stay that was less expensive than the typical inn or hotel, and served two meals a day to the young men and women who stayed at her house.  Even after closing her door to boarders, lines curled around the street for her daily lunches.  Today, they continue to serve standard boarding house fair in large communal tables where you sit with ten others at a single time, eat from communal platters heaped with vegetables and meats, and bus your own plates and silverware.

Mrs. Wilke's line

Line for Mrs. Wilke's on a Wednesday afternoon

Service/Ambience - C:  Service was good and fast but expect to wait in line!  We got to Mrs. Wilke's at 12:45 and waited in line for almost an hour before we were let inside.  On the positive side, the food is already on the table when you are seated meaning that there's no wait for anything except for your drinks (sweet tea, unsweetened tea, or water).  When you leave, you pay a fixed price for your meal.  Mrs. Wilke's does not take credit cards so come prepared with cash!  Hours are also limited so you will need to eat there at lunch on a weekday.

Biscuit and meats at Mrs. Wilke's

The Biscuit - A:  Mrs. Wilke's served up a nice fluffy biscuit though not as buttery and rich as Paula Deen's.

Meat - A:  The fried chicken, beef stew, and sausage were all delicious.  The fried chicken was thick and crispy though not as flavorful as Paula Deen's, the beef stew was rich and hearty, and the sausage was nice and spicy.

Okra and tomatoes at Mrs. Wilke's

Vegetables on the table

Blackeyed peas at Mrs. Wilkes

Veggies (and many many more beyond these)

Veggies - A+:  Now, this is what I'm talkin' about.  We had over 20 vegetable dishes at our table and all of them were good (and most were vegetarian).  We had tasty okra and tomatoes, creamy macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, English peas and noodles, carrot salad, sweet candied yams, pickled beets, butter beans, snap beans, an amazing squash casserole, rice, collard greens, green beans, mashed potatoes, and, oh, I'm probably missing a couple of veggies.  Every single thing I put on my plate was delicious and we did justice to the all-you-can-eat option, meaning that we were still full 24 hours later.

Banana pudding at Mrs. Wilke's

Banana pudding at Mrs. Wilke's

Dessert - B:  Call me picky but the banana pudding tasted like Jell-o vanilla pudding and Nilla wafers which is good but not quite good enough.  The cherry cobbler didn't inspire us but, by that point, we were too stuffed to eat much more anyway.

****************************************************************************************************************************

Ding ding ding!  Time's up!  And the winner is . . . . Mrs. Wilke's!

Folks, let's see those final tallies:

Overall score for The Lady and Sons:  A solid B minus.  Good but not great and definitely not worth the expense.

Overall score for Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room:  A solid A.  Whatever else you do in Savannah, if you're there on a weekday, stand in line and go to Mrs. Wilke's.

Details:

The Lady and Sons is located at 102 West Congress Street in downtown Savannah.  They do not accept reservations and are open during the day and night.  Hours are at their website but you shouldn't have too much of a wait on most days unless you get there at the same time as a tour group.

Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room is located at 107 West Jones Street in downtown Savannah.  Their restaurant can be hard to find so just look for the line that starts around 11:00 on Jones Street.  They are open only on weekdays between 11 - 2 and they do not accept credit cards.  A meal costs $16 per person and $8 for children under 12.

Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room on Urbanspoon

04/28/2011 08:27
I can't get over that line!!! I prefer food from other parts of the world, but there are some Southern dishes that literally make my heart smile.
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04/28/2011 11:25
This post made my mouth water!

I love barbeque though, that's what I think of as quintessential southern food. BBQ ribs, mmmmmm!!!!
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04/28/2011 13:05
Southern food is comfort food! Yum, they all looked great! Have to agree the veggies at Mrs. Wilkes looked better. Okra is one of my favorites and those black eyed peas were calling me. One picky thing, mac and cheese a veggie??

Thanks for this post. I would probably try both if I was in Savannah as long as the line at Mrs Wilkes wasn't too bad.
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04/28/2011 18:32
Oh goodness I want to do that tour with you again...do over please! I love Southern food but don't get much chance to eat it, those pictures are food porn to me!
04/06/2016 13:04
Very delicious too, i'll definitely try it once, images showing different view from here. I am hungry
05/03/2011 19:49
We have just arrived in Jacksonville and can't wait to head to Savannah. We will definitely eat at Mrs Wilkes. I never thought of southern cuisine having good veggie options. My only concern is how we'll be able to fit in cupcakes afterwards!
05/08/2011 09:40
Erin - You're going to love it! And yay for cupcakes and Jacksonville. You'll have such a great time in that area - especially at the beaches.
05/16/2011 03:56
John
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05/16/2011 07:47
Thanks John!
05/20/2011 01:23
totally agree that a good biscuit makes a southern meal perfect! I'm from the South and love when people try the food and really like it. I will definitely have to try Mrs. Wilks the next time I'm in that area... sounds amazing!
05/20/2011 17:39
Jade - You should! Si and Erin from Neverending Voyage went and they loved it, too. It's the best!
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06/20/2011 10:04
Oh southern food is my joy! I haven't been back home to SC in a while but Savannah's food is great as well. Cant believe that line on a Wed. afternoon.
06/27/2011 11:21
Kirk, the line is always there! And Savannah's food is truly spectacular, isn't it?
08/29/2011 15:46
Some times good Southern food is exactly what you want. I want to try that biscuit. Sad that the desserts were not up to par. Southern deserts should be excellent.
08/30/2011 10:12
Lisa, I'm with you --- we were very disappointed by the desserts --- especially because banana pudding is one of my all time favorite desserts.
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09/10/2013 11:15
Have you guys tried Alligator Soul? Last time we were in Savannah this place rocked our socks off.
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