Last Updated on November 5, 2021 by Jim Ferri
We had lunch one day in a famous Savannah restaurant and it was a great disappointment. The next day, however, I remembered hearing about a great restaurant in an old boarding house, of all places…you need to go here to believe it.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Two years ago my wife and I were in Savannah, Georgia, and we had lunch at Paula Deen’s famous restaurant, The Lady and Sons. It was one of those places that is so hyped you just feel you should give it a try.
For us, however, the experience was a disappointment. It was one of those moments everyone has sooner or later – you look forward to an experience based on the raves of others, and yours turns out to be totally different. At Deen’s we found the service poor, and the food not at all what we expected when we walked through the door. To tell you the truth, we sat there wondering whether we’d gone to the wrong restaurant.
But before we left Savannah the following day, we decided to find another place for lunch before getting on the Interstate. I had remembered hearing about a low-key restaurant in an old boarding house, of all places, called Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House (it is also known as Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room). We made our way over to West Jones Street and waited in a long line made up of fellow travelers outside the door.
Great Southern Home Cooking
It was a non-descript place on a fairly non-descript street, and as we waited I remember us discussing whether we might be as disappointed as the day before. Instead, to our amazement, we wound up having the best meal of the trip.
I was back in Savannah not long ago and decided to go back to Mrs. Wilkes where once again I was met with the same long line. Although I had arrived at 11:45am, I had to wait 1½ hours to get in. But as in my earlier visit, I found a lot of comradery in line with people from all over the country that had heard about this place. I spent my time chatting with two FedEx pilots, one of whom, it turned out, had grown up in a town near me on Long Island.
As I finally I moved inside the door, it was culinary déjà vu. Wilkes serves up its meals in a family-style setting, and in my first foray here I’d tasted Southern dishes I’d never had before. Now, along with my seven fellow diners – from California, Nevada, Florida and Colorado – I once again delved into the feast at hand.
Communal Dining at Mrs. Wilkes
Bowls moved quickly from person to person, flying around and across the table — macaroni and cheese, okra, succotash, green beans, rice, cream corn, fried chicken, corn bread, barbecued pork, black-eyed peas, rice and sausage, beef stew, collard greens, cabbage, noodles and peas, sweet potatoes, gravy, rutabaga, mashed potatoes, pork and beans, cucumbers in vinegar, and more. And there was iced tea and dessert, of course.
Interestingly enough — and I observed this at most of the other tables, as well – as soon as we all sat down no one said a word. Each of us simply started passing food around and for about 20 minutes the extent of our conversation was only to ask for a taste of this or that. It was as if out on the sidewalk our collective minds had become focused only on the task of consuming what was on the other side of that door, and all chitchat had now been suspended until the job was completed.
We began speaking towards the end of the meal, of course, comparing the delights of different dishes and all agreed the wait was well worth it. I know I’ll likely be back on line when I’m passing through the area again.
If you’re passing through Savannah you may enjoy Mrs. Wilkes. It’s $25 per person (children under 10 years, half price), no reservations or credit cards (although I did see them accommodate someone unaware of the cash-only policy). Open for lunch only, Monday-Friday, 11:00am to 2:00pm.
If you go:
Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House
107 West Jones Street
Savannah, Ga 31401
Tel: (912) 232.5997
Note: Closed: Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day and the entire month of January