If you ever find yourself in Savannah, Ga., I have a suggestion for a place to eat dinner.
It’s a restaurant called Nine Drayton, named after its address at 9 Drayton Street in northeastern downtown Savannah a few blocks up from the river. My Wife Wendy and I more or less stumbled across the establishment a few weeks ago while walking around the historic city, and we came away with a sense of amazing satisfaction and gratitude for our discovery.
Nine Drayton doesn’t look unusual on the outside, with an entrance carved into the corner of one of Savannah’s dozens of old brick buildings. But as soon as the door was opened for us by one of the restaurant’s very professional-looking personnel, the unusual (and remarkable) took over.
To the right, along one wall, fine piano music and singing was being admirably and outstandingly doled out by a dapper gentleman named Mike Sweat. We were seated about halfway back in the relatively narrow layout, almost right across from where the piano man was plying his trade.
Sitting there and sipping a drink was like being in a movie scene, surrounded by unassuming (and not overbearing) elegance with Sweat crooning many piano-laced pop classics, all the while sounding like an accomplished cross between Billy Joel and Marc Cohn.
We ordered our food and were soon graced by the presence of some simply wonderful, authentic sour dough bread with an oil-based dipping sauce. You don’t find bread like that on the shelf at Walmart – or anywhere else for that matter.
One of my goals in visiting Savannah was to consume some top-notch seafood. Nine Drayton delivered with flying colors.
I had shrimp and grits, a dish you can appreciate if you’ve ever lived in the deep south as I have. The shrimp was light and fluffy, and no doubt hadn’t been out of the Atlantic Ocean for long. The grits – well, there’s probably no such thing as bad grits in Savannah, and this batch was as good as any I ever had in eight years of living in North Georgia.
But the culinary highlight of the night was the red snapper Wendy ordered. It was a “catch of the day” addition to the menu and came lathered with the most succulent of glazes.
Its preparation was immaculate; perfectly light and flaky on the inside and with a slight crunch on the outside. I concluded that it was the best fish I had tasted in my life – not an exaggeration, just a fact.
Not surprisingly, the sides were also delectable, especially the beautifully prepared wild rice and grilled asparagus Wendy had on her plate. When we had finished eating, we remained virtually motionless and silent for a while, basking in the glow of the moment and savoring the exquisite feeling.
Before leaving, we struck up a conversation with Nine Drayton owner Catherine Bruce, an approachable, personable woman who genuinely cared about the opinions of her guests from Missouri, and who told a wonderful story about the formation and evolution of her business. We made a point of explaining in detail our feelings and viewpoints of the food we were served, and she made a point of introducing us to chef Michael Condon.
Mr. Condon appeared to be a very humble man, but one who was obviously very dedicated to his profession and shared his boss’ sincere interest in guests’ perception of their dining experience. We heard some fascinating snippets about his background, which includes being in some very serious, high-end cooking situations.
We thanked him for his exemplary work and he thanked us for thanking him.
As we left, we stood outside the front door and talked a while longer with Ms. Bruce. She seemed like a friend, invited us to return (and make sure to mention our first visit) and wished us the best as we went our way.
Sometimes eating can be more than just a necessity or fun. When the conditions are right, it can create a strong memory.