BY NOW many Savannah locals have grown to love the award-winning fare of local restaurant Cotton & Rye. And although the restaurant is constantly pushing the envelope by offering new grub, the restaurant occasionally offers its guests a specialty seated dinner with drink pairings.
On Feb. 13, which happened to fall on Fat Tuesday, Cotton & Rye hosted their very first Mardi Gras Dinner.
The menu was a collaboration of Chef de Cuisine Andrew Olivia, Chef and Partner Brandon Whitestone, and Chef/Owner Zach Shultz (because three Chefs are better than one).
As for the cocktails, which Cajuns and Savannahians alike consider a crucial part of a meal, Shultz told me that “they were a collaboration of restaurant managers Kimberly Whitestone and Danielle Kratz.”
So why host a Mardi Gras themed dinner in a modern Southern restaurant? Chef Zach considers “dinners like this not only fun for our guests but also really fun for the restaurant team.”
Nothing could be truer considering the room was buzzing with excitement as the servers passed around the first course, a Georgia Shrimp Remoulade. Succulent sweet chunks of shrimp were lightly coated in blackening seasoning and paired with tangy pickled green tomatoes then tossed a lemon-cayenne remoulade, a mayonnaise based French sauce.
Although slathered in a spices and sauce, every bite tasted light because of the crisp lettuce holding the shrimp and a healthy dose of citrus. The adult beverage paired with the dish was a Crusta, an old fashioned drink normally featuring brandy.
To pay homage to our Cajun brothers, the restaurant used a New Orleans spiced rum in place of the brandy, mixing the drink with Fruitlab orange bitters, maraschino, and lemon. The lemon in the cocktail played off of the lemon in the dish giving your palate a whirlwind of harmonious zest.
Up next was the Alligator Boudin. If you’ve never had boudin, it is truly the staple of the bayou.
Boudin is a sausage that popular as a cajun snack, and can be found almost anywhere in Louisiana: gas stations, corner stores, and roadside stands. In terms of popularity, think of it as the Louisiana version of our boiled peanut.
My uncle, who lives in Louisiana, always brings me boudin when he visits, so I was excited to see how authentic these Lowcountry guys could make it. Traditionally made with pork, rice, and some special seasonings, you can boil it, fry it, steam it, or eat in on crackers.
For this Lowcountry version, Chef Andrew filled sausage casing with tender Louisiana alligator meat and popcorn rice. Accompanying the delicate sausage was a fiery red pepper jam and smoky grilled baguette points.
Chef Zack created the red pepper jam using “sugar, salt, thyme, and red pepper” cooked down to create the something reminiscent of a pepper jelly that Savannahians love to serve at a party with cream cheese.
The drink pairing was a De La Louisianne: a rye libation with Danielle Katz’s twist of absinthe soaked cherries. The sticky sweet cherries were as explosive as the red pepper jam that guests weren’t shy about smearing on their toast.
Cotton & Rye’s House Sazarac was teamed with a Turtle Bolognese for the third. By no means was this a traditional Bolognese, and, like most of the protein on the menu, the snapping turtle used was procured in Louisiana. Salty Romano cheese, bright chopped parsley, and earthy whole grain mustard encased a deep green spinach tagliatelle made in-house by Cotton and Rye’s sister restaurant Sugo Rossa.
Normally Bolognese is rich and hearty from a deep meaty red sauce, but this swampy version was full-flavored without being too mucky. The mustard incorporated the right amount of punch, keeping your tongue on its toes.
Jambalaya followed the Bolognese, ending the savory portion of the dinner with fireworks. The Chefs jammed in four types of meat: crab, shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage.
The thick sauce evenly coated every grain of al denti rice, and the quadfecta of meat peppered the velvety platter. The Milk Punch, a creamy cocktail created with Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon, Bacardi Dark Rum, vanilla, milk and nutmeg, acted as the much needed coolant for the fiery rice dish.
The grand finale came with not one but two desserts. As delicious as Cafe Du Monde’s famous beignets are, Cotton & Rye’s cloud-like beignets were some of the most authentically delicious pastries you could imagine. These mini puffs of Louisiana flare were served with an airy dusting of powdered sugar and accompanied by the best sauce I could imagine to put on beignets.
The coffee anglaise coated my taste buds with the flavor of a perfect cup of joe — deep, sweet, and bitter all at the same time. This sauce would have made an old leather shoe taste delicious, but luckily it was served on doughnuts that tasted like they came right from restaurants on the streets that guard the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Finally each table received their very own King Cake stuffed with cream cheese and lacquered with a milky sugar glaze. The race was on to locate the tiny baby encased in only one table’s gooey yeast cake because the lucky finder received a gift card to return for another dinner at Cotton and Rye.
Not only was the King Cake beautifully coated with the banner colors of Mardi Gras, but it tasted better than any King Cake you could buy from N’awlins. The bread was light and airy due to a perfect rise of yeast, allowing the baked treat to dissolve in your mouth as soon as you bit down.
If you missed this year’s Fat Tuesday celebration, next year is hopeful considering Chef Zach would “like to make the Mardi Gras dinner an annual thing.”
But if you can’t wait that long, the consistently delicious southern food created by Cotton & Rye is available just down the street on Habersham & 34th.