IT'S THE bright star of socially conscious cuisine, yet to those of us who remember big family gardens, grandmothers canning summer berries and peaches, weekly trips to the farmers market, or fishing & shrimping in the nearby creeks as just another weekend pastime... well, we may wonder what all the fuss is about.
I’m talking about the concept of the Locavore, or, one who prefers to eat only locally grown or sourced food.
It is a great pleasure—and let’s say it: a great relief--to sit down to a meal you know comes from small companies that probably have not raped the environment, poisoned bees, or befouled the water table. Of course, if it’s well-prepared, beautifully presented and doesn’t bruise your wallet, that makes it all the better.
Ah, but all those sorts of places are usually situated in the downtown area, right? As Chris Blake, owner and Executive Chef at Blake’s Fresh Local Dining newly opened on Wilmington Island in October last year, puts it:
“We want to the downtown kind of place without the hassle or the high prices, offering Savannah and the islands locally-produced, delicious food without sacrificing quality.”
Sounds good to me!
Blake built up his culinary skills from an early age, working magic in the kitchen with his Italian dad and grandfather, learning not only the subtle use of spices and the beauty of a simple, elegant sauce, but how to bring a favorite dish up a notch, adding just the right personal touch to make it special, yet still recognizable.
Take pasta, an Italian staple that can be ordinary or distinctive, depending on how it’s handled: Blake’s Paquillo Cream, a ravishing coulis of roasted Spanish red peppers, is a definite step upward from the usual tomato-based topping.
Chris, from Tattnall County, trained with The Veranda’s Executive Chef Jeffrey Hansel in Alabama’s heartland, a young and enthusiastic virtuoso who embraces seasonal shifts in the menu and relishes the offerings of local farms. He absorbed a playful inventiveness with familiar dishes and honed his skills in meticulous presentation, yet he also appreciates that not everyone wants deluxe gourmet dishes when they venture out.
If you favor spiced duck breast with Swiss Chard and a gastrique of baby turnips, carrots and kumquats, you’ll be well-pleased with his sophisticated take on it—if you just want a thick, juicy burger or steak and big, hand-cut fries, he’s gotcha there as well. He aims to please more than to impress.
Something as simple as an appetizer can show the true face of a restaurant’s cuisine, and it doesn’t require a long list of exotic ingredients or intricate preparations. A deservedly popular one here is the Green Tomato Cheese Dip, a sizable bowl of mind-bogglingly delectable smoked Gouda melted with cream cheese and mixed with coarsely chopped fresh green tomatoes, run under the broiler until bubbly and served up with dense, slightly chewy slices of homey French bread, is a dish that simply astounds the taste buds.
The delicate Mussels in a butter/stock reduction will bring you back again and again. An extensive wine list, IPA beers, and full bar make every meal complete.
Chris and his friend and sous chef, Anthony Michaels, combine their talents and love of seafood to bring you fresh, local favorites with a French flair, as in the excellent pan-seared Red Snapper with cauliflower Crème or their rich Bouillabaisse of shrimp, mussels, tender Grouper, delicate okra and crisp fennel.
Southern dishes still feature prominently, albeit with a personality of their own: try the pecan-crusted Chicken Breast with its Thai fried rice & home-pickled Chow-Chow or the cornmeal-breaded Quail nestled with Au Gratin potatoes and good-old fashioned collard greens for a real treat.
This is not a snooty sort of place that is high on hype and short on portions.
“In fact,” Blake tells me, “Folks sometimes say they get a bit too much, but I’m a big believer on not scrimping, of giving the customer his money’s worth!”
If you have the room, though, do check out the special dessert offerings like his delicious tiramisu in a multitude of flavors like raspberry, blueberry & key lime, or the wonderful Peach Cobbler with whole Vanilla bean ice-cream.
Blake’s occupies the space of the former ‘Troy’s Mediterranean’, which makes it easy to find, and Blake, his wife Allison (who also serves as Manager), and good buddy Anthony, re-created the place in a single week to produce a pleasing and laid-back venue with sage-green booths, soft white cotton curtains, and a spare but surprisingly roomy dining area that invites you to come on in and stay a while
The Sunday Brunch, with its bottomless Mimosas and generous portions of Crab Cakes Benedict, luscious Shrimp n;’ Grits or Andouille Omelet with Chevre cheese, brings in regulars every week, and wine-lovers look forward to spending a lazy, delightful afternoon on Wednesdays sampling new vintages. Just ask the friendly and well-informed staff if you have any questions on the best food and wine pairings.