One of the newest installations at the Telfair Museums' Jepson Center is an appetizing one.
If you feel like going to a museum and actually buying a piece of art, any plate off the Jepson Café's menu would count.
Now under fresh management, this edition of the Jepson Café features a menu that's a collaboration of styles including New American, Asian fusion, barbeque, Caribbean, French, German, Greek and Mediterranean, Latin American, Vietnamese, and, of course, a touch of Southern taste.
The tuna poke exhibits sashimi-grade tuna with nori flakes, soy sauce, cucumber, and macadamia nut over a foundation of rice with sliced avocado—along with sesame crisps for utensils. Fine art also meets fine dining with other small plates like the summer rolls — poached shrimp, basil, chiffonade lettuce, glass noodles, and smoked pork, rolled and complimented with a peanut-hoisin dipping sauce (and even though it's in a museum, it is considered proper to use your hands as utensils on this one).
Complimenting these dishes was Moroccan Mint Tea from The Tea Room with an added touch of mint syrup and lime juice.
Although under the affiliation of the Telfair Museums, the Jepson Café is run and owned by Matthew Baldwin, David Hamer, and Michael Clee.
"Between all three of us, we're bordering on 60 years of combined restaurant experience. We all know what we're doing. And it's kind of exciting to have this opportunity to really show what we can do," Hamer says.
Hamer worked as a corporate chef for Gaslight Group LLC and has worked with local businesses such as B. Matthews, The 5 Spot, and even helped with Blowin' Smoke's location transition. Brian Huskey, owner of Gaslight Group LLC, was the one that turned the culinary entrepreneur onto the opportunity of the Jepson Café.
"They were looking for restaurants to occupy this space," says Clee. "They brought it to Brian and Brian said that it wasn't right for him but said -- "
"'This would make perfect sense for you, you should give this a shot.' And was kind enough to let me leave and do this," says Hamer, finishing Clee's thought.
Hamer and Clee have been friends since their early twenties and first thought about opening a restaurant together when they lived in Delaware five and a half years ago. After David took a trip to the Hostess City, he returned to Delaware, "and I was like, 'Mike, we have to move to Savannah right now—and open a restaurant.'"
So, they did.
The Jepson Café has moved back to its original location: nestled on an upper floor of the Jepson Center and overlooking the atrium. The quaint space is well-lit with tall windows lining the café. Art by the museum's staff is displayed around the room. It's all clean and contemporary—mirroring the atmosphere of the museum.
The space is tailored to its fine-art-housing architecture. Which also means that it wasn't necessarily built to harbor a restaurant.
They are limited by the equipment they can and cannot use, but, co-owner Matthew Baldwin claims that his "favorite part is designing the menu around those restrictions. With restrictions you produce unique results."
The myriad of culinary styles that go into the creation of each one of their plates is a testament to those unique results. "And the fact that we can do whatever we want, it's kind of our thing," Baldwin adds.
Almost every single ingredient on their menu is made by the owners themselves, from handmade dough for noodles and ravioli, to an authentic tiramisu. But the Jepson Café isn't just centered on its own work. They've adopted local cuisine and include ingredients by local businesses.
Smoked pork shoulders from Angel's BBQ, flavors from The Tea Room, French-pressed Perc coffee, and even fresh herbs and vegetables from Kachina Farms in Rincon – those are just a few of the vendors the Café has integrated into their menu.
"We're about to talk to Savannah Bee to get the honey pumping here," Hamer says. "We want our space to be almost a forum for all food that is good. Whether we produce it or somebody else does, we want it to be the stage. Anything good, we want to promote it."
The Jepson Café will also set the stage by featuring guest chefs and lecturers to share their expertise. The restaurant will work with events held at the Jepson Center but will also hold events of their own.
"We want to make every Thursday night an event—if it's not an event already. A lot of Thursdays they book parties, they book events, they book openings, exhibitions—things like that. But on the Thursdays where there's nothing going on, that's where we fill in that slot—and we say we're going to bring in a guest chef, we're going to bring in a lecturer, we're going to bring in a food author—something along those lines," Hamer shares.
"We're going to use the guys from the Blue Turtle, for the first one. They're going to come and make Lowcountry Boil sushi."
"Also, the Perc guy is going to come in and do a demonstration for coffee," Clee adds. In fact, Perc already visited the café to measure the exact amount of coffee is needed for their French press—and individually packaged the coffee so that every cup is brewed to perfection.
"It's Perc approved, my friend," Hamer promises.