Legendary | Worth driving from anywhere
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
Review by: Michael Stern
West Jones Street is a boulevard of antique brick houses with curving steps and graceful cast iron bannisters. At 10:30 each morning a line begins to form at #107. Although there is no commercial sign outside, the serious student of Roadfood can tell you what is going on. At 11 o’clock, the doors of 107 open and the lunch crowd finds seats at one of the large tables-for-ten shared by strangers. And so begins the daily feast, boarding-house-style.
Tabletops are crowded with platters of fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffles, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, corn muffins and biscuits. Mrs. Wilkes stopped taking in boarders in 1965, but her tables demand the vigorous exercise of a boarding house reach. (In fact, it is now possible to stay at “Wilkes Pied-a-Terre,” above the dining room.)
As at any southern feast worth its cracklin’ cornbread, there are constellations of vegetable casseroles: great, gooey, buttery bowls full of squash au gratin and scalloped eggplant, cheese grits, corn pudding, pineapple-flavored yams topped with melted marshmallows, creamed corn enriched with bacon drippings, green rice (mixed with broccoli and celery); brown rice (with mushrooms and soy sauce); and the low-country legend, Savannah red rice.
When Mrs. Wilkes first started serving meals in this dining room in 1943, there were many similar places in cities throughout the region, where boarders as well as frugal local citizens gathered to enjoy the special pleasure of a meal shared with neighbors and strangers. Now, the take-some-and-pass-the-bowl style of the old boarding house is a rarity. Mrs. Wilkes passed away in 2003, but her establishment remains a prized opportunity to indulge in the delicious food – and the cordial foodways – of a culinary tradition that values sociability as much as good macaroni salad.
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2 Responses to “Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room”
April 21st, 2022
We ate at Mrs Wilkes several times in the early 70’s. During one meal we shared the table with a couple who were traveling across the US writing about places to eat . I’ve often wondered if they were the Sterns. Is there any record of the dates of the dates of their visits there? (Mrs Wilkes was still alive and at the restaurant/boarding house then)
January 11th, 2007
My husband and I visited Mrs. Wilkes. The food was very good: fried chicken was great and the vegetables were to die for. The freshest tasting okra, great squash casserole, etc. And this was autumn, so I have to think the veggies in the middle of summer would be even better.
However, I do have a complaint about service, one which I did hear from others. This was the most rushed lunch I’ve ever had. The second we sat down the food was all placed on the table and you dig in. Yes, it is family style, but the pace of the service is very rushed. Locals are friendly, but they scarfed down three pieces of chicken in about five minutes. If you are like me and would like to take a breath every few minutes, you’ll soon find the dishes being removed, dessert being brought and boom, you’re out the door. I estimate we were in and out in less than 25 minutes. I told my husband that next time I’m going to take my time and ask to be moved to another table to finish my meal. We’re here in the area again and I may try it again. I’ll repost if we do go again.
In Savannah, we had good meals at Bistro Savannah (not Roadfood-type though) and good pizza at Vinnie Van GoGo.