I always want to try a local brewpub when I'm on vacation. Not only for my interest in their beers, but also because they usually have some interesting food to go along with their micro-brewed beer. One place that we drove by many times was the Moon River Brewing Company on Bay St. in downtown Savannah. (see map) We decided to go in for lunch one day.
The building that houses the Moon River Brewing Company has a historical past in that it dates back to 1821 when it was built as the City Hotel, the first hotel in Savannah. In addition to the hotel, the building also was home to the first United States Post Office in Savannah, as well as the first United States bank branch. The City Hotel stayed in business until 1864 when the last customer checked out just before Gen. William Sherman's march into Savannah during the Civil War.
By the turn of the century, the building was used as a storehouse for both lumber and coal. When the coal industry went away prior to World War II, the building was then used as a general storage warehouse. In the 60's, the building was then turned into a office supply store. When Hurricane David hit Savannah in 1979, the roof was torn off the building. It sat empty until 1995.
As part of the revitalization of the Savannah Historic District, the main floor and basement of the bottom was turned into a brewpub - the Oglethorpe Brewing Company, named after James Oglethorpe, the founder of Savannah.
The Oglethorpe Brewing Company had a tough go and closed their doors after less than three years in business. It was reopened in 1999 as the Moon River Brewing Company, named after the nickname of the local Wilmington River which was made famous in the song "Moon River" which was penned by Savannah native Johnny Mercer. In 2004, local investor Gene Beeco, along with brewmaster John Pinkerton (who had come down to Savannah from the Frederick Brewing Company in Maryland), bought Moon River and its 15 barrel brewery. Here's a picture of Beeco (on the left) and Pinkerton (on the right) during one of their famous Christmas Eve parties at Moon River.
As you enter the Moon River Brewing Company, you walk right into the bar area - an old antique looking square bar with high back chairs. A hostess greeted us and took us into the dining room and sat us at a booth. She handed us our menus and said the waitress would be right with us.
They had a beer menu on the table and I took a look through that. They featured 8 beers they brewed on their own at Moon River, including something they called "Tater Ale", a sweet potato beer. It sounded interesting, but the "Swamp Fox" India Pale Ale caught my eye. The Swamp Fox featured a very hoppy and forward taste, the kind I like in a good strong pale ale. Cindy doesn't really like that kind of a pale ale, but Moon River had a "Slo-vannah" pale ale that is more of an American style pale ale, less hoppy and forward. For people who don't like to try microbrews, Moon River also offered other tap beers such as Guinness, Smithwick's and Sierra Nevada pale ale.
Our waitress, a young, 20-something, very fun girl, came over to get our beer order. We ordered up a couple - the Swamp Fox for me, and the Slo-vannah for Cindy. She said, "Oh, I'm sorry. We're out of the Swamp Fox." So, I ordered up two Slo-vannah pale ales.
She also talked about some of the specials they were having for lunch. But Cindy had her eye on one of the appetizers - fried green tomatoes topped with real blue crab meat, then drizzled with a cucumber wasabi sauce. Yeah, that sounded pretty interesting. We ordered a plate of those while we looked through our menus and sipped our beer.
I was in the mood for a good burger and Moon River has three burgers featured on their menu. They also had other sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads and entrees - including seafood, steaks and an interesting sounding chicken/sausage Creole dish. It sounded good, but I wanted a burger.
And so did Cindy, so when the waitress came back, she ordered a Moon River burger - just an 8 oz. plain burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. She also ordered a side of the scalloped potatoes. I thought about getting their Black and Blue burger - an 8 oz. blackened burger topped with bleu cheese and served with dijon mustard. But sometimes, the bleu cheese overpowers the taste of the burger. I do like bleu cheese, but I opted for the Moon River burger topped with Monterrey Jack cheese and grilled mushrooms. I got a side of their beer battered onion rings.
Our fried green tomatoes appetizer showed up at the table and, man, was it a lot of tomatoes. Big fried tomato slices covered the plate and then were topped with a generous portion of blue crab meat. There was going to be no way we were going to be able to finish everything on the plate, especially with more food coming our way. But we made a small dent into the tomatoes while we waited for our burgers. I have to say they were really wonderful and really Southern.
Our burgers showed up and they were thick and juicy. There were a lot of grilled mushrooms on top with the Monterrey Jack cheese. The burgers were very good. The onion rings were OK, not exactly what I was thinking they would be. They were a little too "bready" for me, but still good. Cindy's scalloped potatoes, however, were just outstanding. She offered me a bite and they were very cheesy and delicious. They were excellent.
The Slo-vannah pale ale was a great compliment to the meal. It had a nice forward taste, but didn't overpower the taste of the food. Whatever John Pinkerton did to make the Slo-vannah pale ale a smooth taste, he got it down.
Our lunch at Moon River wasn't all that cheap - about $35 bucks before giving our very fun and efficient waitress a good tip. But the food was very good, the decor was pretty cool, the service was great and the beer was superb. A trip to Moon River Brewing Company should be on your agenda if you're going to Savannah and want to experience a great brew pub.