As part of our road trip this week to Oklahoma City, we stopped at Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons in Savannah. For those of you unfamiliar with The Food Network, Paula Deen and her two sons are food celebrities, great people with a great story.
The restaurant doesn’t take advance reservations: instead, hopeful diners start lining up in front of the restaurant, waiting for the hostess to arrive and begin taking names for the day’s seatings. On Sundays, the hostess arrives at 9:30 AM, and the buffet opens at 11 AM. We took our place in line around 8 AM, and we were sixth in line. By 9 AM, the line stretched down the block, and by 9:30, it was down to the next block. We gave the hostess our name, and left to do some window shopping and photography.
At 11 AM, an unbelievably loud woman came out with a clipboard and yelled instructions to the crowd of maybe a hundred people. No bullhorn, no drama, just huge pipes. She explained that the restaurant had seating on the first and third floors (with steam tables on both floors), but that the elevators only carried 15 people at a time, so we should be patient while she called out a few names out at a time. That process might sound unfriendly, but the environment was so jovial and amusing, and everybody had a great time.
Erika and I took our seats at a the third floor table, placed our drink orders, and headed for the buffet. The steam tables were much smaller than I’d expected, with maybe a dozen choices in all, but the staff kept all of the foods replenished quickly. I’ll cover the items one at a time.
Macaroni and cheese – this was, hands down, the very best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever put in my mouth. In fact, this shouldn’t even be called macaroni and cheese. There should be a different culinary term for this masterpiece, because it’s in a league of its own. I think they thicken it with eggs, because it has a bit of a loose-egg feel to it like the eggs in Pad Thai. When I went back for my second plate at the buffet, there was only one thing on it. That’s right – macaroni and cheese. I have resolved to track down this recipe and reproduce it, and then eat it every day for the rest of my life. Okay, maybe not.
Fried chicken – I’ve read reviews of The Lady and Sons fried chicken before, and they were right – it’s good. It’s not the life-changing experience of the macaroni, but it’s good. I will say that it’s the best fried chicken I’ve had off a steam table.
Mashed potatoes – Erika said it best when she said, “I’ve never tasted butter before in cooking, but I taste the butter in this.” Creamy texture, perfect spices, great stuff. I wasn’t as impressed with the gravy.
Roast beef – mmmm, juicy.
Everything was ever-so-slightly salty. If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t recognize it, and I probably only caught it because I’d read other reviews prior to our arrival. They could back off the salt just a tiny, teeny, wee bit, but it didn’t detract from the food. I don’t think Erika caught it.
Biscuit & hoe cake – the hoe cake is basically a pancake, but denser and with a more mealy texture. Good, but I gotta be honest – these take up space in a stomach, and that precious space should be saved for macaroni and cheese.
I didn’t try the greens, the grilled chicken, salads, or desserts. I wanted to, but I couldn’t do it in good faith. I’m still training for the Disney marathon in January, and it’s hard to gorge myself when I’ve got ten mile runs on the weekends.
Some of the reviews I’ve read said that Paula’s buffet is just a buffet, just like any other Southern buffet. I beg to differ, and I know how to illustrate it. Erika and I stopped several times at Cracker Barrels during the course of our road trip, and we went there for dinner the same day that we visited The Lady & Sons. Just to check, I ordered some of the same foods we’d had at Paula’s, and wow, what a difference. Paula’s food is famous for a reason – she makes ordinary food amazing.
I resisted the urge to pick up a t-shirt from the Paula Deen store, but its tagline deserves repeating here: “I’m Your Cook, Not Your Doctor.”