Gottlieb back in the kitchen: Sweet
Savannah food traditions range from Paula Deen's y'all-a-minute drawl and green grits on St. Patrick's Day to the tomato aspic and chicken salad plate at Johnny Harris.
Among all those goodies, though, the chocolate chewy stood out. Rich in nuts, light in texture, it was a staple at Gottlieb's Bakery. And Gottlieb's itself was a staple, a bakery founded in 1884 that wove itself into the city’s fabric with bread, cookies and other sweets.
Gottlieb’s closed in 1994, shutting down its location at the mall where so many downtown merchants had relocated. So when three Gottlieb brothers decided to open their own restaurant in 2004 — and do it downtown, where a booming tourist business was sparking a revival on Broughton, once the city’s premiere shopping street — it stirred nostalgia and local pride.
Along with the Starbucks and Gap, there was a real taste of tradition. Gottlieb’s Restaurant and Dessert Bar served the kind of upscale food you might find at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, where Laurence Gottlieb had been sous chef to Patrick O’Connell: seared fois gras on a Belgian waffle with sugar cane gastrique syrup, pan-roasted lobster on a corn cake, an amuse bouche of fried chicken on a biscuit. But it also served chocolate chewies and red velvet cake, along with breads and other sweets that had a century of tradition in every bite.
Michael and Richard Gottlieb joined Laurence in running the restaurant, and their father, Isser, operated the bakery. It lasted just two years before shutting its doors. (The Savannah Morning News reports on the reasons behind that closing in this story from June 2006.) There’s a Panera Bread in the building now, another in an ever-growing line of national chains that’s turning a once-vibrant live/work/play historic district into a Downtown Disney packed with tourist hotels and squawking tourist trolleys.
But it’s hard to keep a good cook — and a good cookie — down. I ran into Laurence Gottlieb recently at an event to promote South Carolina’s restaurants to travel writers. After the restaurant closed, he worked for a short time at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. Now he’s back in the South, as executive chef at Hamptons, a fine-dining restaurant in Sumter, S.C., not far from Columbia.
He was preparing the unofficial state dish of South Carolina, shrimp and grits. The stone-ground Boykin Mill grits were plumped up with a 2-to-1 ratio of heavy cream to milk, then enriched with butter and mascarpone cheese. He topped them off with sautéed shrimp and a corn cream that involved corn kernels, diced bacon, bacon fat and red bell peppers.
The Boykin Mill Grits and Corn Sauté With Carolina Sweet Shrimp are on the menu at Hamptons, along with other Southern-influenced dishes like fried chicken on red wine risotto and French beans, and more standard offering such as grilled steaks and fish. There’s a fresh market where you can buy stone-ground grits and other regional foods, and a new garden.
And of course there is a bakery, one with a familiar menu. Pecan sticky buns. Red velvet cake. Chocolate chewies.