What Mashama Bailey Appreciates About The Savannah Food Scene

Savannah, Georgia may be the oldest city in the state, but there's nothing dated about its food scene. Travel + Leisure points out that the so-called "Hostess City of the South" has evolved into a foodie destination. And it's not only food lovers who are drawn to the Southern city, but chefs and restauranteurs from across the country also feel its magnetic pull. One key player is Mashama Bailey, who has helped attract attention to Savannah's bustling culinary scene. 

Born in New York, the chef's bio shares Bailey spent much of her childhood in Savannah, where she returned in 2014 to open The Grey — a celebrated Southern eatery housed in what was once a segregated bus station (per SavannahNow). She brought with her a unique viewpoint on Southern classics, including adaptations of recipes that had been passed down in her family for generations. Four years later, Bailey made waves when she became the first Black female chef to be nominated in the best chef category in the history of the James Beard Awards, which were established in 1991. She went on to win Best Chef: Southeast in 2019 and 2022.

Before moving back to Savannah, Bailey spent years cooking in New York City kitchens, and what she explained to Eater about the difference between the cities' food scenes may surprise you.

Savannah's diners make excellent critics

New Yorkers have a reputation for their brusque demeanor, but it's actually in Savannah where Mashama Bailey found some tough critics — in a good way. "They love food in Savannah, and they're very particular," Bailey told Eater. Because Savannah's diners are accustomed to eating well at home, they're picky with their Southern food; This drove Bailey to create the very best dishes that she could at The Grey, as she explained to Eater that diners had no problem letting her know if they were unimpressed with her food. "I had to really research and pay attention to what people wanted to eat," the chef stated.

This doesn't bother Bailey, who herself is no stranger to remarkable home-cooked Southern meals. The chef's mother cooked Lowcountry red rice, she explained to 10best, and she learned to cook in part by watching her grandmother, aunts, and mother in their Georgia kitchen (via The Grey). In her "Chef's Table" episode, Bailey recounted that these childhood food memories helped inspire her to create The Grey's menu. She realized that the dishes she'd grown up with had an audience with Savannah's foodies.

Bailey says Savannah's restaurant scene has a lot to offer

When it comes to dining out in Savannah, Bailey recommends a few spots in particular as ones you shouldn't miss (via 10best).

In her "Chef's Table" episode, she highlighted Narboia's Grits and Gravy as a source of inspiration. Connect Savannah says the soul food eatery is known for — you guessed it — its creamy grits smothered in homemade gravy, along with other lunch and brunch dishes like French toast, fried or grilled fish, and sandwiches. If you're hoping to taste another southern staple, head to local mini-chain Sisters of the New South, where Bailey says you can find the best fried chicken in the city. And if you're hoping for a draft beer to wash down your meal, the chef suggests you check out Crystal Beer Parlor, which has over 20 beers on tap.

Or of course, you can visit The Grey and see firsthand why Bailey is considered one of the best in the city; you might just need to wait months to snag a spot.