- Photo by Heather Mull
- Jumbo lump crab cakes over sauted spinach, and corn and red peppers
Everybody has a list of things they're going to do "someday." In our case, the list includes a lot of restaurants whose dinners we've relished and whose brunch service we intend -- someday -- to partake of, too.
When it came time to go to Savoy, the latest upscale addition to the Strip, we decided to turn the tables, to try brunch first and see if it made us want to come back for dinner. A factor in our decision was a friend's field report that the brunch scene at Savoy, as well as the food, was not to be missed. She described diners showing up fresh from church services, decked out in their Sunday best and ready for their big meal of the day.
In fact, the brunch menu is titled "Savoy's Sunday Best," as if to acknowledge that this weekend repast is a special event for the kitchen, too. Savoy's slogan is "Welcome to the Good Life," and this luxuriant attitude permeates everything about the place. Behind the understated limestone façade, punctuated by a massive slab of a wooden door, the interior redefines "swank," with sumptuous expanses of tufted white leather, undulating wall surfaces and gradually color-shifting accent lighting. The warm palate of reds and oranges felt just right on a cloudy, autumnal morning.
Perhaps due to an imminent Steelers game, we mostly missed out on the parade of diner finery our friend had described, but having the place almost to ourselves wasn't bad, either. Service was friendly and professional. Executive chef Kevin Watson has an impressive résumé, ranging from the Top of the Triangle to instructor at local culinary schools. At first glance, the menu suggested current fine-dining culture (locally sourced foods, sous vide meats) crossed with lounge favorites (sliders and fish tacos) flavored with a Southern vibe (chicken with black-eyed peas and greens, watermelon salad).
But Watson's approach is more complex than a mere grab-bag of culinary clichés. Witness the layers that comprise the fried green tomato and crab cake Benedict. The traditional English muffin was replaced by a fried green tomato, which had the crunch to evoke toasted bread, the brightness to evoke a squeeze of lemon, but the heft to anchor this exquisite dish. In turn, a crab cake in place of ham provided some meaty savor, but with succulent sweetness in place of the salty smokiness of cured meat. The traditional top layers of poached egg and hollandaise sauce, too, told us something about the kitchen: Its mastery of classic cuisine is flawless. The egg was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was creamy yet tangy.
Less ambitious dishes were also good. Fried chicken and waffles are a venerable Southern tradition, and Savoy offers them at all hours. The waffle was the best Belgian-style we've ever had -- delicately crispy, almost porcelain-crackly, on the outside, with an interior as light as slightly sweetened air. The fried chicken was juicy with an improbably pale yet crispy exterior that somehow bridged the gap between brittle batter-fried chicken crust and crunchy floured coating. A small wedge of corn pudding on the side offered a suitably mild, slightly sweet accompaniment.
A flight of French toast had textural characteristics similar to the waffles, while its subtly eggy, yeasty flavor was enhanced by an autumnal apple compote. (Banana was an alternate choice.) This was so sweetly satisfying that to pour on syrup seemed extraneous, but syrup did come with it, just in case.
Shrimp and grits, another Southern classic equally applicable to brunch or dinner, featured grits that belied their name, they were so incredibly smooth and creamy. Surely white cheddar contributed, but there must also have been some alchemy in the kitchen to transform grainy grits into a porridge more akin to a bisque. Indeed, Jason switched mid-dish from fork to spoon. The plump shrimp -- thankfully with tails removed -- were coated in barbecue sauce that reinforced the shrimp's sweetness rather than offering a contrast, and there lay the only letdown of the dish. Shrimp and grits don't need to be fiery, but a little heat is good against creamy grits and meaty shellfish.
There's a wonderful-looking wild-mushroom and goat-cheese omelet on the menu, served with an arugula salad, but we chose to visit the omelet station for a custom preparation. The filling options run the gamut from classics like bacon and cheddar to more distinctive ingredients like crab and capicola. The omelet itself was excellent, and one of the pleasures of ordering was watching the chef deftly garnish his creations.
Back at our table, Jason was drawn to Savoy's version of one of his all-time favorites, biscuits and gravy. Watson used chicken sausage in place of shredded chicken or pork sausage, and the little round slices where we expected lumps were momentarily confusing. Jason thought the gravy itself could have used a touch more pepper, but the biscuits were exceptional, with lightly brown exteriors and fluffy interiors. Savoy's deft touch with pastry extended to our bread basket: It was filled with miniature cinnamon rolls and blueberry scones and accompanied by whipped butter and blackberry jam.
Savoy for dinner? Not someday. Soon.
2623 Penn Ave., Strip District. 412-281-0660
Hours: Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; jazz night Mon. 5-9 p.m. (appetizers only); dinner, Thu. 5-10 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.
Prices: Brunch $13-26. Dinner, appetizers $10-15, entrees $16-38
Liquor: Full bar