I’ve been staying for the last month in Savannah, Georgia, and everyone told me I had to eat at The Olde Pink House. The problem is, that’s easier said than done. However, I managed an off-hours lunch spot on a weekday afternoon with some savvy planning and a few weeks’ advance notice.
My first mistake, I realized upon walking up to the grand old house on the corner of Reynolds Square in the historic district, was not doing my homework before visiting. As I approached, people were standing out front taking pictures. Now, that’s not altogether odd in the Savannah historic district, so I didn’t think much of it, but later I remembered. It would turn out to be one of “those Savannah houses.”
Outside, the green palms made a lovely contrast against the pink stone. It was said to be pink because the red brick bled through the plaster, and later the owners just gave up and started painting it pink to keep it uniform. I could tell the service would be good when I was greeted with that classic southern hospitality as soon as I walked onto the portico (that’s a porch for non-southerners) through the big wooden doors. The hostess took me to a lovely table at the front of one of the many dining rooms. I’m not sure what counts as a “dining room,” but there are at least 10 rooms where they serve food in this house. I do love these grand old southern mansions.
Part of the fun of Savannah is touring through some of these old mansions, and when you dine at the Olde Pink House, not only do you get lunch, you get to tour one of the biggest and most famous houses around.
You probably want to hear about the food, right? I hate to disappoint, but for a food review, this will be disappointing - I didn't eat as many things here as I usually do so it's lacking. I'm writing though because it had so much to offer in other ways.
Appetizer: Fried green tomatoes. Three tomatoes were stacked on the plate, and they were served with Applewood smoked bacon and sweet corn cream for $10. The batter was crisp and savory, while the tomatoes were just the right amount of soft and firm with a hint of tartness.
Entrée: Fried chicken chopped salad. This came with tomato, cucumber, red onion, blue cheese, bacon, baby lettuces, red wine vinaigrette and the kicker - hearts of palm. It was divine. Everything was fresh and crisp, as if they’d picked it off the vine themselves before I arrived. The fried chicken, as promised, was the same chicken they served on the fried chicken platter, which is what I really wanted to get. (I knew I couldn't eat it all, didn't want to waste it and couldn't take it with me that day).
Not surprisingly, being Savannah, the tables around me were filled with groups of ladies. This is a place where women like to vacation together. I listened as they passed their plates around and raved about how good everything was. There was a lot of raging about the shrimp & grits and the crab cakes.
While I ate, a waiter opened a bottle of champaign for the table next to me. As soon as the cork came out, she dropped it spraying the table and much of the room, except me. The odd thing was that the staff did not flinch but collectively grabbed linens and cleaned it up almost robotically.
While I ate, my waiter and others explained the details and history of the house. The house was built in 1771 for James Habersham, Jr., who lived in it until he died in 1799. It exchanged hands many times and was eventually restored by Jim Williams, owner of Mercer House and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Fame.” For some time, it’s been an acclaimed restaurant and has two popular bars.
Free house tour
After I finished eating, I paid my bill and went for a look at the place as I'd seen others do. There’s a lovely view of the famous Palladian window above the portico, and there’s a balcony, ballroom, and more dining rooms. These old southern houses are ridiculously huge, but this was almost big enough to get lost in.
I went into the basement, and nobody was down there except a bartender behind an old bar preparing for a shift. Luckily, there was an empty bathroom – upstairs, the line was four people long – so I went in it. Immediately I felt a strong, discomforting presence. It could have been the large painting of James Habersham Jr. hanging over the toilet.
Quickly, I went, washed, and tried to get out, but the door was stuck. After a minute of struggle, I shoved it open and hightailed it out of there. Later, I looked it up and read this, “The spirits of the [enslaved] children still live on in the house, and patrons of the bar have caught a glimpse of their apparitions playing in the basement. They’ve been known to knock down cutlery and lock the bathroom doors.” And another story … “The children are also known to play pranks on patrons who use the basement bathroom, locking the stalls and bathroom doors with guests still inside.”
I also read that bottles of alcohol are frequently knocked out of the staff's hands and their holders.
So, when you visit the Olde Pink House, not only do you get a great meal, you get a fabulous house tour and maybe a ghostly encounter.
Find it at 23 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Georgia.