JESSE BLANCO'S WEEKEND ON TYBEE
A couple of well-behaved hours later, my wife now in on the fiesta, we made our way to Spanky’s for dinner. Home of the original chicken finger. Yes, if you don’t know the story, back in 1976, a couple of Savannah boys were in their restaurant on River Street looking for something to fry. I’m not exactly sure how much, if any, alcohol was involved in that exchange, but someone decided to take a sliver of chicken, batter it and fry it. Spanky’s has been giving thousands upon thousands of people the finger ever since.
We enjoyed a few cocktails off of their specials menu. I tried Spanky’s version of the Rum Runner. They were the flavors of summer. The kind of joy you get after a parched afternoon on the sand, knowing that not only was the cocktail great, but there are likely going to be a few more and great friends to go along with your evening. There was also a Watermelon/Basil cocktail we very much enjoyed. We had a laugh at how “Summer Nights” the evening felt as we grabbed our coats to bundle up for the drive to the Tybee Post Theatre.
If you haven’t been to the renovated Tybee Post Theatre, you’d never know that such a beautiful venue exists tucked among the trees on the Northern end of the island. It’s small, but the attention to detail is as good as any concert venue you will find. $3 beers never hurt anyone’s feelings either. Georgia girls Caroline Aiken and Jill Knight wowed us for two hours. A beautiful show. Beautiful space.
There’s a special place in my heart for Doc’s Bar. There always will be. It is where the first lengthy conversation about what later became “Eat It and Like It with Jesse Blanco” went down late on a Friday night in May of 2010. It was a few hours removed from the Tybee Beach Bum Parade, which is quite possibly the most fun an adult can have with their clothes on. Never heard of it? Throw it a google. How do you turn away from an island-wide water gun fight and parade? You don’t.
I think it would be fair to say the people of Doc’s are Tybee personified. They never met a stranger. Been around almost 70 years. You walk in there alone, you will make some friends, listen to some music and have a few laughs. Welcome to Doc’s.
My night was over, or so I thought. Walking up Tybrisa I resisted the temptation to stop in to any number of spots that had music coming out of them. It’s like a row of tractor beams are coming out of every doorway. A song you like could suck you in. A good crowd at the next spot could do the same. Get caught up in that wash and you could find yourself doing shots of Hennessey out of an ash tray at 3am. For the record, I do not know of this from experience. Maybe. I think.
Unable to fight off all the temptation, I found myself at Nickie’s. I don’t know if this spot is known for its people watching, but it is now. That designation was made by the time I made it half way into the room to the bar. In the back of the house was some bad karaoke (most of it is, right?), to my left was a group sitting along a wall waiting their turn at a pool table. Then came the scream.
“If you ain’t redneck, you ain’t s***!”
I was walking back to a table with a beer, but the screech was straight out of Jurassic Park. It felt like someone had shoved a broom stick down my spine at the neck. The kind of wail that stiffens you at attention. He sure had mine, and he wasn’t even talking to me.
I didn’t really understand what that was all about, but I sat in my corner nursing a Bud Light watching the bad dancing. Before the weekend was over, I learned that the saying is something of a ‘mating call’ on the island. Well, not really, but I can imagine the right lady might just swoon in the presence of the right man.
It’s Tybee quirk. Anyone will tell you so.
Had a chat with a cute young lady who is a fan of our TV show who actually thought I was a Food Network Correspondent who lived in New York City and flew in to feature local restaurants on TV and then flew out. Not a bad gig if you can get it, I suppose. But Savannah is home. Always will be.
A chilly morning awaited us as we headed out on the Tybee Beach Ecology Trips. If you enjoy the beach and marine life, you’d be hard pressed to imagine how many different kinds of sea life you can find in 90 minutes frolicking along the jetty near the North end of the island. Never mind that you are standing at the mouth of the Savannah River with South Carolina in the distance. Dr. Joe is a retired professor from Savannah State University. He knows his aquaculture.
Armed with nothing but a golf cart and an afternoon’s worth of time to kill, the Tybee way I imagine, we set out to find whatever trouble we could. By early afternoon, we popped in on Tybee Island Fish Camp, home of another memorable dish on the island. Oysters Pulaski. It is their version of the “Rockefeller.” Oysters are topped with collards, Andouille, bacon, jalapeno and panko. The dish is an homage to Confederate soldiers who many times had nothing to eat but greens and bacon in their backpacks. Named for nearby Fort Pulaski, I’d dare say it is one of the island’s handful of signature dishes.
A few others you can find at A-J’s Dockside. A long standing island favorite, even in the winter they find a way to set the scene. I was welcomed with a Margarona - a giant margarita with a corona mini turned over in it. We probably ate half our weight in Buffalo Shrimp. If there are any better on the island, heck in Savannah for that matter, I want to know about them. Exceptional dish. As were fried shrimp. You will eat it and like it.
Our nightcap took us back to Tybrisa, if for no other reason, my wife had never been to the Wind Rose Café. Maybe one of a handful of dive bars in America with a library and video borrowing room in the back. It’s in plain sight, nothing funky going on back there, but where else along Georgia’s coast can you get your island on and read Moby Dick at the same time? I’m not quite sure.
The Wind Rose was our pre-determined last stop for the evening. Don’t ask me why, but sometimes I’m overcome with joy when I order a shot of Jameson with my beer. Though I actually had been warned, what I didn’t count on was a 4-finger shot that looked like a cup of apple juice in front of me. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to drink it either. Knocked me flat on my ass. The next day the young lady said, “Yeah, they pour heavy at the Wind Rose.”
I wanted a staycation, I guess I got one.
By morning, we were crazy excited about the opportunity to sleep in. Brunch wasn’t until 12:30pm so there was ample time to hydrate and, well, sleep.
Fannie’s on the Beach is another institution on the island. Brunch is an affair. Live music in the corner, full of locals, it’s a gathering spot. Probably one of 3 full blown brunches on the island. To go with The Deck and Tybee’s Island Social Club’s Bluegrass Brunch.
There’s a special Bloody Mary at Fannie’s that looks like lunch. Comes out in a tall glass, all the munchies you’d expect from a Bloody Mary and a beef slider pinned to it. Quite possibly one of the most memorable items of the weekend. The Crab Cake Benedict fit the bill as well. All of it overlooking the beach? Yeah, sign me up.
Of course, the most memorable part of the weekend? Hands down, are the people of Tybee Island. Yeah, some are a little rough around the edges. Others might take the time to put on some shoes before they walk down to the gas station for some more beer. That doesn’t mean for a second that they aren’t all hard working people. You just never know with this place.
Ultimately, that is what makes it so fun. The natives will tell you they are just a little quirky beach town 25 mintues from downtown Savannah. That’s exactly what it is. A down home Low Country Boil of personalities, characters and charm. I recall after one of the hurricanes last year, listening to an interview by phone with a man who was trapped in Key West. He said, “I’ve got plenty of hootch. So I’m OK. I’d rather be stranded on this side of the bridge than the other side.”
I’m guessing that would fit Tybee as well.
The same way you can find yourself poured “4 fingers of death” at the bar is the same way you can strike up a conversation with the right person and be invited to a sunset oyster roast hours later on the marsh. Without a doubt, like the rest of the South, hospitality reigns supreme on Tybee Island.
The kind of hospitality you take for granted unless you visit regularly.