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Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room: Savannah, Georgia

Updated: Jul 10, 2021

Most Southern towns used to boast a boardinghouse where you could find a simple, quiet room and a communal dining room that offered at least two hearty meals a day. Boardinghouse food was the daily fare for locals, among them young, working class laborers, schoolteachers, bankers, washerwomen and middle-class merchants alike.

In 1943, a young Sema Wilkes took over a boardinghouse in historic downtown Savannah. Her goal was modest: to make a living by offering comfortable lodging and homestyle Southern cooking served family style in the downstairs dining room. Mrs. Wilkes picked up where the previous proprietor left off, cultivating relationships with nearby farmers who dug sweet potatoes for her in the fall and shelled peas in the summer. The restaurant is housed on the ground floor of the same historic house, built in 1870, at 107 West Jones Street. Mrs. Wilkes published several cookbooks. Her family continues to run the restaurant today, but it is now open only for lunch.

Mrs. Wilkes and her restaurant have been featured in newspapers and magazines. Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room is a casual restaurant in Savannah, Georgia that offers a menu of Southern home cooking. Situated in a historic house dated to 1870, it is a popular dining spot in the city. The restaurant was owned and managed by Sema Wilkes for 59 years, from 1943 until her death in 2002 at age 95.

Early in the afternoon I headed in to town to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. I knew there was going to be a waiting line of a couple of hours and I was prepared to wait as long as it took. The line was around the block.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is only open for lunch, from 11:00 to 2:30. No reservations. Normally I don't do lines but the people ahead of me saved my spot and I kept shopping and coming back every 20 minutes to see how far we had moved up. Then they would go wander a little. So finally our turn came.

They take in the next 10 people on line, sit the 10 of you on a bench inside the restaurant while they set your table, bringing out all the bowls of food.

They pour 10 sweet teas and then come to the bench and ask if we are ready to eat. We all sit down and just feast. The meal was Fried Chicken and Meatloaf.

Some of the sides were mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, collards, creamed corn, squash, string beans, baked beans, black eyed peas, white rice, brown rice, sautéed buttered cabbage, macaroni salad and honestly I forget the rest. Everything was tops.

Then when you were done, you had to bring your dishes to the kitchen. Then you sat back down and out came the blueberry cobbler, banana pudding and ice cream. I died. I walked back to my airbnb (thank god it was 2 blocks away) in an absolute food coma and slept until 6:00 PM. Best meal ever.

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