Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room: Savannah's Best Southern Cooking

Miamians will encounter some unfamiliar things in Savannah, Georgia. For example, trees. Not palm trees, but big trees -- the kind with old trunks, droopy Spanish moss, and leafy branches that offer shade to park-goers. There are historic buildings, flâneurs, and grassy city squares.

Then there's this: people in line waiting outside restaurants. At Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, a teeny, cash-only spot in Savannah's historic district, the queue sometimes wraps around a block or two.

The wait, typically, is longer than two hours.

The restaurant, which opened in 1943 and was visited by President Obama in 2010, operates in a breezy fashion. Reservations are not accepted. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., only on weekdays. Lunch costs $18, and diners are seated in groups of ten. Patrons share tables with strangers, and the place serves its Southern cooking family-style.

So ask folks to pass the sweet tea and fried chicken. It's an easy way to make fast friends.

In a way, the meal is all-you-can-eat. Tables are set up with bowls of beef stew, sweet potatoes, okra, collard greens, mashed potatoes, braised pork, butter beans, corn, macaroni 'n' cheese, rutabaga, biscuits, and more. If the table runs out of chicken, request more.

Flavors here are impeccable. Mrs. Wilkes' has the best Southern cooking in Savannah. It rivals restaurants in other cities as well.

Something else Miamians might find shocking: After waiting two hours, sharing a table with strangers, passing the collard greens, and drinking too much sweet tea, guests must take their dirty dishes to the kitchen. It's a Mrs. Wilkes tradition. It's also good manners.

When patrons exit the homey dining room, their faces rosy from excess eating, they pass by famished folks, those who are still waiting for lunch in the Georgia heat.

"Is it worth it?" asks a 40-something woman. She sits on the front step of an old house, shading her eyes from the sun with her hand.

My response: Yes, ma'am. For a taste of Savannah's best Southern cooking, it sure is.

Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.

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