A note about Saturday’s Interlude: this entry deals specifically with the Paula Deen tour and our dinner that same night at The Lady and Sons restaurant. Part two deals with our activities between the end of the tour in the morning and dinner that evening.
Saturday dawned bright, clear, and hot, as summer mornings are wont to do in the South. While the girls went downstairs to grab some coffee and tea, I stayed upstairs and poured some formula down the tube. I had no idea when we would be eating, or if I would be able to eat any of it, and the heat takes its toll on you when you’re out and about. I finished that, redid the dressing around my tube, and went downstairs to join the girls and await the bus or trolley that was to pick us up for the tour.
As it happened, we were picked up in a limo instead and whisked off to the main office of the tour operator to wait for the others who would be joining us. Once everyone was assembled, we were appropriately labelled.
One of the companies that does a trolley tour throughout historic Savannah thought it would be nice to have a tour showing All Things Paula. Apparently, according to some of the folks I spoke to, Paula herself didn’t really think anyone would be so interested to be willing to shell out $53 each for such a tour. But, according to our tour guide, since last March, they have sold 10,000 – yes, you read that right – tickets for the tour.
The tour encompasses a ride in a small bus past The Lady and Sons restaurant and the tremendous line down the block.
It also involves a ride past the original, smaller location, a visit to a small fresh market where Paula purchased her things when she ran The Bag Lady, a ride past the townhouse she lived in for awhile, a ride past the house she lived in earlier (I think while running The Bag Lady), a visit to the chapel where Paula and Michael got married, and lunch. Our lunch was at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House – they shifted the tour lunches there from The Lady and Sons to help increase word about it, and because The Lady and Sons is just so incredibly busy these days. We actually did lunch fairly early in the tour, as they had three more busloads of people following our early one. We had 37 people in our group, and thankfully, the bus was air-conditioned, because like most July days in the South, it was about 95 and humid.
It was just a bit after 10 AM as we rode by The Lady and Sons. Lunch service does not begin until 11 AM, but they open the host station to take names for tables (for lunch) at 9:30 AM. All of these people were waiting to put their names on the list for lunch. The restaurant does not take reservations per se. More on that shortly.
Bubba’s is actually outside of Savannah proper as most people know it.
They had a set menu for the tour folks, since the meal is included in the price of the ticket. The menu included grilled oysters on the half shell (from Apalachicola, FL, on the Gulf coast, as there really isn’t much commercial oyster product in GA), grouper po’ boys, fried shrimp, grilled chicken, and a couple of other things. They serve cornbread before the meal with some butter. I can’t eat oysters right now, but my aunt said they were good (but heck, what isn’t good, grilled?).
My mom had the shrimp and said they were tasty, with a light battering instead of the horrible, heavy type of batter you find at some places.
I had the fried grouper po’ boy, and it had the same type of battering. It wasn’t bad, although it was a bit chewier than I’d have liked.
The restaurant itself backs up to the Intracoastal Waterway – think the canals of Venice, with lots of marshland around it, and that’s pretty much it – and the parking lot is huge.
I think they plan on that place gaining in popularity the same way The Lady and Sons did. All the staff I spoke to said that Paula is exactly the same in person as she is on tv: funny, talkative, and given to playing cards and practical jokes. However, the food was rather ordinary from what I saw of the tour menu and the regular menu. Nothing jumped out at me as something for which I’d make a special trip outside of the main town area.
Out in front of the restaurant is a pond with some koi and a giant carp who unfortunately was too camera shy for me to get a picture.
They also have a spider for good luck.
After lunch, we boarded the bus again and drove out to the chapel where Paula and Michael were married. The chapel is on the grounds of the Bethesda Orphanage, which was founded in 1740 by George Whitefield (pronounced wit-feeled) on the banks of what became known as the Moon River – the Moon River immortalized in song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini in 1961. Today, it’s known as the Bethesda Home for Boys and is host mainly to boys who have made their way through the legal system for one reason or another. There is now a school on the grounds; in years past, the boys attended public school with the kids from around the area, including our tour guide, who said she went through school with some Bethesda boys.
The chapel is not used for regular services, but is rented out for special occasions, like weddings, and the boys who live on the land are free to use it as well, of course. The drive is lined with ancient trees, dripping with moss.
It’s very quiet in the area around the chapel, which is quite small.
This is a view of the nave from the rearmost pew. According to the people to whom I spoke, the pews date from the 1920s.
This is a view from the small gallery upstairs.
When you step outside, you’re once again in the quiet embrace of the trees.
From there, we rode around and gawked at the house where Paula and her sons lived when she ran The Bag Lady – I can’t imagine living there now, with anywhere from three to five tour buses riding past your house on a daily basis. That would make me insane.
We stopped at Polk’s, where Paula would gather up her daily supplies for whatever she was making for The Bag lady. As most people know, she suffered from agoraphobia, and this was one of the trips she was able to make each day to see Becky, who ran the place, and who would allow her to pay for whatever she picked up after the day was over. Paula would send her boys out to sell whatever she’d made, then pay for the goods afterwards. It’s nice to live in a place where you know your neighbors well enough to be able to help them in that manner.
The “BBQ” notation on the sign caught my attention, of course, as did the smell of smoke. There was a giant smoker set up on the side of the building. Behind the smoker is the firebox. Both dials read just under 200 degrees – I stepped up, uninvited, on the platform to read them.
The inside of the market is not very large, and some of the produce looked a little wilted in the heat. But, they were very busy. My mom picked up some more honey to try. We love honey.
Outside, they were boiling peanuts.
There was also this strange plant with fuzzy things growing on it. Anyone know what this is?
From there it was a ride past the townhouse to which Paula moved when she opened The Lady and Sons, and as a bonus, a ride past Chippewa Square. This is where they filmed Tom Hanks waiting for the bus in Forrest Gump. There is no bench here, though, as that was a movie prop, and the film has the traffic running clockwise around the square (which is really a circle), even though all the traffic through the squares runs counterclockwise.
One of the benefits of the tour is that you can call The Lady and Sons and actually make a reservation, although those are limited. We wound up with a table that night at 8:30 PM (dinner service begins at 5 PM), so that wasn’t too bad. We decided to be dropped back at the hotel after the tour.
Once inside, we cooled down a bit and unloaded the goodie bags provided as part of the tour.
The bag is a thermal bag – I suppose if you wanted to take your lunch to work, it would keep things cool with an ice pack in it. Inside were a brochure, a reservation ticket for The Lady and Sons (the one that allowed you to actually make the aforementioned reservation), a sample praline from one of the candy stores, and a freebie bottle from Paula’s eponymous prepackaged food line. In our case, it was Silly Salt – basically, a seasoning salt. She has other items I’ll talk about later.
Skipping ahead a bit…
When we returned to The Lady and Sons that evening just after 8 PM, there weren’t as many people outside waiting, but of course dinner had been running for over three hours at that point, and some people were being told that no more names were being taken. Bummer for them.
The Lady and Sons takes up a corner on Congress St., if you’re familiar with Savannah. There are three floors: diners are served on the first and third floors, and the second floor has the kitchen. On the first floor just inside the main door is a small area where you can buy Paula stuff: books, aprons, t shirts, hats, and so on. There’s also a station set up where a woman was working away, making hoecakes. We were given a laminated ticket (“You’re invited to join us for dinner on the third floor”) and took the elevator up. There is a hostess that meets you at the elevator, takes your ticket, and seats you – I expect they have to fend off people trying to cut through the throngs waiting outside. The bar is on the third floor, and we sat at a high top table just across from it. They will serve food at the bar, but it wasn’t clear to me if people could just wander in for a drink and also eat, or if they had to have the golden ticket to get in first. There were only a few people at the bar, but the rest of the place, both on the first and third floors, was packed. I asked our server how many tables they had available, and she said they could serve about 200 people at the same time between the two floors.
It’s very dark inside, and my camera battery was giving out by that point. I still managed a few shots, though, including one of mom and Barb, happy as clams.
The biggest draw for most people to The Lady and Sons is, of course, the buffet. All three of us chose that. The buffet comes with a dessert, and I ordered a cup of the crab soup as a starter. The soup was excellent, I have to say: it was cream based, no vegetables beyond some onions I found, and had huge chunks of blue crab floating around in it. I could tell we were at Paula’s place, because when I left the soup sitting after stirring it and allowed it to settle, you could clearly see a ring of what appeared to be butter around the outside edge of the soup against the bowl. Unfortunately, I did not get a good photo of that. They also start you off with a rather huge cheese biscuit and a hot hoecake. For those unfamiliar with hoecakes, they are made of cornmeal, but they are fried on a griddle like a pancacke. The biscuit I’d rate top-notch, the hoecake ordinary.
On the buffet that night: fried chicken, fried catfish, pot roast, mashed potatoes, collard greens, black-eyed peas, lima beans, sweet potatoes, and probably one or two other sides. The things I just listed are the things we all ate to one degree or another. They do have a very small salad bar as well, but out of perhaps two dozen people I watched go up, only one came back with salad. For everyone else, it was the mains only.
The sweet potatoes were great: hot, soft, laced with butter and brown sugar. Ditto the black-eyed peas, which had bacon or backfat and small green beans or shoots, with a hint of spice to them. My mom thought the peas were oversalted. I hate lima beans personally and will never eat them, but both my mom and aunt had them and judged them good; my aunt had some collards and said they were quite good. The pot roast fell apart if you looked at it too intently, and that and the gravy went very well with the mashed potatoes, which were creamy without being runny or too heavy. The catfish was fried whole in a cornmeal mixture and was serviceable. The chicken seemed to be battered very simply: flour, salt, pepper. It was very crispy, not greasy, and better than the catfish but not as good as the roast, in my opinion – and I love me some fried chicken. Overall, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about, but then again, I’m used to Southern style cooking, done by some of the best ever, including my Granny.
Dessert for us was southern peach cobbler with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, and it was fantastic: the top crust was thick and bubbly, and the peaches were firm but tender. The cobbler was not cloyingly sweet – which is how some places try to make up for flavorless peaches – and the combination of the warmth of the cobbler and the coolness of the ice cream made it delightful.
Would I recommend either of the restaurants? For the novelty of saying you’ve been there, certainly. The food was rather unremarkable, in my opinion, and didn’t strike me as anything that you couldn’t get somewhere else. I can say that I found it amusing to come across business cards on the way out of The Lady and Sons: Paula’s title is “owner”, while each of the sons’ cards had “son” as their titles. A good sense of humor is very important.
One thing that small towns do is embrace their native sons and daughters who make it to the big time. Paula’s books and products are absolutely everywhere in Savannah, and I don’t think there was a single shop we saw that didn’t have something of hers, including a product called Paula’s Butt Massage. Another bottle we saw said Paula’s Butt Rub. I’m not sure which is the current name. There were also two different types of barbeque sauce (one ketchup based and one mustard based), a steak and prime rib rub (much the same as the butt rub, except with mesquite), a regular seasoned salt, the silly salt, and something called house seasoning. One shop also sold the prepackaged biscuit and hoecake mixes. Paula didn’t start her business until she was approaching her 50’s, so I expect there’s plenty of time for me to get my food-related act together. I’ll need a kickass name. If you have any suggestions, feel free to let me know.