Quintessential Comfort Food
There’s no sign outside this venerable institution, but that doesn’t stop the lines forming every morning at 10:45. When the lunch bell rings at 11:30, the hungry crowd shuffles inside to fill large communal tables, which soon disappear under the brimming family-style platters and bowls of Georgia’s heartiest all-you-can-eat feast—a rare culinary holdout from an era that Savannahians hold dear. Mrs. Wilkes opened the place in 1943 and presided over it for almost 60 years (she died in the fall of 2002). Today it’s run by three generations of her comfort-food-savvy family, serving old- time traditional favorites that are as unpretentious as the restaurant’s basement setting.
The menu is constantly changing to keep things fresh for the many regular patrons, but fortunate travelers can always expect to find Mrs. Wilkes’s famous fried or baked chicken and cornbread dressing. With luck, they’ll also get to try her okra gumbo, peppery crab stew spiked with sherry, sweet potato soufflé, and the low-country specialty, Savannah red rice. The old “boarding-house reach” is common practice here, and heaping your plate with seconds and thirds is expected—the Wilkes family intends to send you on your way happy. While you’re there, though, be sure to strike up a conversation with the folks at your table—it’s the camaraderie as much as the food that makes the experience unforgettable.