Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room was on the top of my list of places to try while visiting Savannah, Georgia back in February. I had first learnt about Mrs. Wilke’s Dining Room from Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate episode on Fried Chicken. Since I’m a fiend for great fried chicken, I was really intrigued. Mrs. Wilkes’ is an institution in Savannah. This place started off as a boarding house with a communal dining room that offered hearty meals for travelers and tired laborers. Sema Wilkes (aka Mrs. Wilkes) took over this boardinghouse in historic downtown Savannah in 1943. Her goal was to offer comfortable lodging and homestyle Southern cooking served family style in the downstairs dining room. Though Mrs. Wilkes passed away in 2002, her legacy lives on in her food. Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room does a family-style communal lunch for $18 a person on weekdays only from 11am to 2pm. In fact, they are open during only these hours. My initial thought was that they must be pretty darn good in order for the business to just open 3 hours a day, 5 days a week (which translates to a mere 15 hours a week). After reading multiple reviews about the line ups even during the non-peak tourist season, I decided to get there early so that we would get in for the first seating. My friend C and I arrived at around 9:45 am and we were first in line. It didn’t take long for the line to start forming down the block.
At exactly 11 am, the dining room opened and the first group of diners were seated at one of the eight large tables for ten.
The tables were already set with most of the dishes all laid out and ready for the hungry guests.
There were so many dishes to choose from. I counted at least 23 dishes. This included fried chicken, beef stew, rutabaga, BBQ, butter beans, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, black-eyed peas, snap beans, and cucumber salad.
There was also collard greens, rice & gravy, okra & tomatoes, macaroni & cheese, baked beans, macaroni salad, stuffing, cabbage, squash, red rice, biscuits and cornbread, and candied yams.
With just trying a small sample of everything, it didn’t take me long to fill my whole plate. Even though all the dishes were prepared ahead of time and in large quantities (enough for the whole dining room), I was impressed that everything tasted home made and was perfectly executed. I really enjoyed the rutabaga, which is not something I get to have often. I wasn’t sure what to expect initially and was hoping Mrs. Wilkes’ wouldn’t be a tourist trap. I was pleasantly surprised that every single dish was delicious. There are some items that I normally wouldn’t prefer but I tried them anyways and boy, am I sure glad I did. Even though most of the guests at Mrs. Wilkes’ are tourists, this place is actually fit for foodies. This was my first experience with real Southern home cooking.
My favourite by far was the fried chicken. Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate was right! This was definitely some of the best fried chicken I have ever had. The skin was perfectly seasoned and crispy while the meat was succulent and juicy. It did not taste greasy at all. Even though I was already stuffed after that plate of food, I just had to have seconds of that fried chicken as I’ve never had fried chicken that was this good.
For dessert, we were give a choice of either berry cobbler or banana pudding. My friend C and I decided we would each choose a different dessert so that we would have the opportunity to sample both. Personally, I really enjoyed the banana pudding. I thought the berry cobbler was a tad too sweet for my taste. I wish I could have had seconds of the banana pudding but I was way too full at this point.
Even though I normally hate line ups, Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room was definitely worth the wait. If you can get there early, I’d definitely recommend trying to get there before 10 am so you can get in for the first seating. When we finished our meal around noon, I was surprised at how long the line up was outside at that point. The line was literally down the street and around the block.
Mrs Wilkes’ Dining Room
107 W Jones St