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Lulu's Chocolate Bar in Savannah: The gingerbread and mint chocolate cake slices we picked (and shared) were some of the best I have ever had. Photo: Dani Silvestri

Savannah: food orgy and DIY ghost tour

in Food/Travel by

You may or may not know Savannah, Georgia’s oldest and perhaps finest city, from your own life history, the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, or rumblings from St. Patrick’s Day. But I must tell you that my favorite thing about this southern U.S. gem is how fun it can be to just hang out in it without a plan – and allow yourself to be surprised by its deliciousness. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every bite, even if you have to give up other pleasures to atone for it.

A free activity consists of just walking around gawking at the swanky houses (some of them residential, others super chic galleries and shops, even an animal hospital). Savannah’s historic mansions are all the more lovely, of course, when adorned in Christmas glory. Or in golden autumn leaves or summer sun or spring flowers. The city does have a dark past, though, not the least of which is slavery. No wonder it’s supposedly so haunted. All this is recipe for multiple organized tours, though I recommend you go out there and do your own discovering.

Here’s a Savannah starter to whet your appetite.

Mansion in the Savannah sunlight. Photo by Ana Ribeiro
Mansion in the Savannah sunlight. Photo by Ana Ribeiro

My immediate family and I wanted to do something we had never done before for our first holiday season without my dad. So we chose to drive (relatively) long distance together from South Florida, where they live. After consulting with a fellow Brazilian friend we invited to meet up with us, we decided on Savannah. Not that far and not that close, and undeniably pretty and pleasant.

Christmas to us is much more of a cultural than a religious occasion. Our religious beliefs or lack thereof don’t coincide, but we still feel the urge to be together then because – besides loving each other dearly – that’s what we grew up with, and that’s what we call the 24th and 25th of December. It’s a way to keep the family bond going through distance, time and different lifestyles.

For dinner on Christmas Eve, we bought frozen mashed potatoes, some cold cuts and flour (always add flour if you want to Brazilify something). My mom managed to make it taste pretty darn good; she’s got the Midas touch in the kitchen.

Six of us – family and friends – sat on the floor and in two beds to eat. We’d found an affordable Airbnb room/flat in a big house from 1850, conveniently by Forsyth Park and the iconic Mercer House. Never mind the lack of space.

To top off Christmas Eve, we went to the dueling piano bar Savannah Smiles, on the riverfront. Too bad the performers implied they had no clue what “Girl of Ipanema” was, when we asked them to play it for us.

We didn’t go wild that evening – we saved it for Christmas Day… and the day after.

Starting the afternoon of the 25th, we got unintentionally involved in a food orgy. We looked up restaurants that were open for lunch on Christmas, since we were running out of the food we’d managed to buy at the supermarket amid the holiday rush. We were surprised to see there were quite a few open indeed. Something we could all agree on was Italian food – it tends to be mediocre at the very worst, and still filling – so we piled up in the SUV and drove to Bella Napoli a few minutes away towards the river.

The Italian men there were a bit too friendly towards their female customers, perhaps to affirm the stereotype as a sort of tourist draw… who knows. But I let them know I wasn’t so pleased, as subtly and politely as I could, and they seemed to back off after that. Other than this, the atmosphere was pretty nice.

When the waitress came over announcing the day’s specials, we thought for a couple minutes and then told her we’d take them. Yes please.

We splurged, though we did share two of the dishes (two and two). They were $30+ a piece. They also consisted of spaghetti drowned in massive blocks of Parmesan cheese. The freshest cheesy spaghetti I’ve ever tasted, and with spicy sausage to boot. Absolute ambrosia. Plus red wine, at the restaurant owner’s suggestion.

We burned off some calories during a delightful walk on the beach at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, within an hour’s drive of Savannah.

Hilton Head Island. Photo by Ana Ribeiro
Hilton Head Island. Photo by Ana Ribeiro

I undid that immediately by drinking a Southbound pale ale, but don’t quite remember what else I ate on the 25th.

The next day would be the big sugar binge, followed by giddy attempts at “finding” ghosts.

We ditched all our museum plans in favor of searching for dessert shops. Our first stop was Chocolat by Adam Turoni on Bull Street, styled like a library.

Adam Turoni's "chocolate library." Photo by Ana Ribeiro
Adam Turoni’s “chocolate library.” Photo by Ana Ribeiro

The lady at the reception was very proud to tell us that they make their own chocolate in the shop (including their own peanut butter and version of Nutella), and we could see the chocolatiers at work. Items we saw varied from $2.50 to about $8.50 a piece, and we walked out with a sizeable sampler – but were conscientious enough with both wallet and stomach to share once again (one or two little bites each). Still, we spent $25 in total, on small bonbons and a little bit of shop-made Nutella.

I have the feeling all the chocolates there – we picked the ones the lady at the reception recommended – taste as good as they look. Even fruity ones I wouldn’t normally go for made a good impression on my palate.

But the next place we splurged at is probably the one that will be stamped in our memory.

We wanted to have ice cream at the most famous parlor in Savannah, but the line was extremely long. My brother had seen online something about a place called Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, and remembered it. It wasn’t that far of a walk; and as soon as we walked in the door, we had our eyes glued on the display at the counter.

The gingerbread and mint chocolate cake slices we picked (and shared) were some of the best I have ever had. I was so happy and high on sugar that I decided to buy myself and my sister-in-law each a fancy martini. Mine was salty caramel, and I took my time savoring every last little scrumptious drop of it. The check in the end, for four of us, was about $52. I never thought I’d be spending that kind of money at a dessert shop (but then again, we split the check, and we were an entire small family).

Gingerbread cake at Lulu's Chocolate Bar. Photo by Dani Silvestri
Gingerbread cake at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar. Photo by Dani Silvestri

Gliding on our sugar cloud, we took Mom back to our Airbnb and set off into the night.

We’d considered taking a walking haunted tour or a tour where we’d go around in something that was a cross between a hearse and a sightseeing bus. Either would cost us at least as much as the dessert shop had, so we decided for a cheaper (as in free) alternative: DIY. It’s about priorities in life, and ours at that time was having amazing food perhaps in detriment of other touristy enjoyments. But we did our best.

An Internet link featuring Savannah’s “10 Most Haunted Places” guided us. We drove the family SUV to about half of them, running into the sightseeing hearse from time to time. The most exciting were 432 Abercorn Street (because it was all dark and we actually went up to the house) and Bonaventure Cemetery (because a cop actually drove up to us and asked what the hell we were doing by the cemetery after closing time).

Forsyth Park fountain at night. Photo by Ana Ribeiro
Forsyth Park fountain at night. Photo by Ana Ribeiro

My brother read from his phone and narrated each stop of the tour with an eerie voice. I made “unearthly sounds” at Madison Square because that’s what the link described happened there on some nights. Tourists took selfies at the 17Hundred90 Inn – though it didn’t look haunted at all, even with a creepy doll placed behind one of the second-story windows.

The whole time, I wished my dad could be there, and often wondered what he’d say and how he’d react in different situations during our three or so days in Savannah. But if he could see us, I’m sure that’s the way he’d want it to be – with us bonding, laughing, being silly and binging. Like the bon vivant he was.

(Cover shot: The titillating display at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar in Savannah. Photo by Dani Silvestri)

An aspiring social scientist and former newspaper reporter, an avid eater, a pseudo-philosopher and poet, an occasion-propelled singer, a semi-professional socializer, a movie addict, a Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, but with special attention to travel, entertainment and lifestyle.

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