TUCKED AWAY at the end of a long unpaved road lives a restaurant that is perpetuating the original intention behind the food culture of the Coastal Empire.
The Wyld Dock Bar is poised right on the marsh, providing customers with not just a taste of Savannah, but an overall experience of the Lowcountry. If you live close enough, you can ride through the marsh to get there, park your jet-ski or boat at the dock and grab a bite to eat. If you’re lucky enough to grab a table around sunset, the view is one of the best in town.
The Coastal Empire has always been known for its marshes, and some damn good seafood. If you are eating at a restaurant that isn’t buying fresh seafood caught either locally or regionally, you’re in the wrong place.
The essence of the coastal community comes from the areas that are mastering this simplicity, highlighting the wildlife in the area, and using what is available to them, as much as they can, to define the essence of their menu. Restaurants that do this well are the ones that build the trust of the locals, who truly need to buy into your authenticity, before they become regular patrons of your business.
- Photo by Melissa DeLynn
The Wyld Dock Bar has embodied all things true to them, and the community they represent, which is how you build a long lasting foundation.
I got a chance to sit down with the Wyld Dock Bar’s Executive Chef, Tony Seichrist, who filled me in on his perspective of Savannah’s food culture, as well as how the Wyld Dock Bar fits into the local community.
“Buying seasonal and local ingredients isn’t as black and white as it used to be. We try as best we can to purchase local ingredients and our location is the catalyst for how we approach our menu and the atmosphere we have here,” Tony explains.
“Food in Savannah has to continue to be humble, it has to remain approachable, but at the same time it has to get better.”
It’s clear to see how tourism has bled into Savannah’s foundation as a whole, but especially our food culture. Food is more expensive here and quality has suffered, as most restaurants are comfortable with being just good enough for the one-time tourists. If we continue, as natives, to enable this behavior, we will be stuck with nothing but “tourist” restaurants.
- Photo by Melissa DeLynn
“The way we push through, is to continue to grind and make sure that you always have a little something for everyone,” Tony expounds. “But for us, it’s important to focus our attention on building a sustainable population of regulars.”
With his background in Italian cuisine, it’s apparent after talking to Tony how vital it is for a chef to cook food that speaks to him or her on a personal level.
“I hunt, I fish, and I always have,” Tony explains. “I’ve always enjoyed getting my ingredients personally, which is how I was introduced to cooking in the first place.”
Growing up, Chef spent a lot of time on the South Carolina islands, where he spent summer vacations shopping for regional ingredients and cooking with his family.
“This restaurant is me re-creating those memories in a professional setting. When you aren’t using what’s around you, you are robbing your region of its flavor, of its soul,” Tony says. “I’ve always tried to oversimplify the final product, and spend way more time with my initial ingredients.”
The menu is rich with creativity, as Chef Tony takes a saltwater approach towards classic menu items. If you’re looking for three courses, I suggest starting with the shrimp ceviche, or if you are in the mood for a salad try their Caesar. The ceviche is seasoned perfectly, and has the just the right amount of sweet, as you build each bite around the pieces of mandarin.
A good number of their main courses are built to support whatever fish is seasonally and locally available. Grits are and always have been a foundation ingredient for Southern comfort cooking. I enjoyed their spin on fish and grits, using Canewater grits and beer battered fish, served with their unique horseradish sauce.
That plate was impressive, which is when I started realize how much bigger my eyes were than my stomach. Despite filling up quickly, I pushed through.
Their crab cake sandwich was a handful, made with blue crab and a house made remoulade; it’s extremely fresh, and smacks of the coastal influence. The exceedingly simple, yet delicious fish sandwich paired with tartar, arugula and tomato feels truly classic.
It wouldn’t be right to not finish things off with something sweet, so I would recommend either the chipwich, or the homemade key lime pie. Both are the perfect cherry on top.
At the end of the plate, you can see how the culture and community influences the food that is produced. I’m excited for the future, and as awareness grows, we will become better “foodies” for the restaurants that continue to set the bar.
- Photo by Melissa DeLynn
The cycle created through these conscious decisions, with time, will produce and attract more talent, resulting in the foundation for our industry’s growth. We have to be active and not passive participants in this culture if we want things to get better. Let’s stir the pot and feed our souls, people.