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Not just cookies anymore

Savannah’s 88–year–old Byrd Cookie Co. is an institution, a brand as widely recognized in the national gourmet food arena as it is respected by generations of Savannah gift-givers.

Now, the familiar retail store has a facelift, and has emerged as a significant new player in upscale casual lunchtime dining.

The Cookie Bar & Grill at Byrd Cookie Co. is beautifully decorated, well–appointed with perfect table ware and accessories, and boasts a chef with a widely recognized pedigree. The menu’s small — bless you — and designed to be consistently executed and supplemented by a host of genuingly unique daily specials.

I shared a variety of dishes with friends on my recent visit, but left a sizeable portion of gastronome’s heart behind after eating the roast beef sandwich. This is no ho–hum sandwich, but a big grilled bread sandwich brimming over with slow–cooked roast beef and shaved, slightly salty Gruyere cheese.

There’s some kick, thanks to pepperonata and a housemade horseradish sauce. It’s filling, flavorful and will be a hard habit to break on my next visit.

I also sampled a pair of deviled eggs, served picture perfect with decoratively pied in yolk and a delicate topping of minced chives. Deviled eggs were on nearly every menu on a recent trip to Atlanta but have scarcely showed on Savannah’s radar.

A beautiful little “pickle jar” offered a pleasant ranges of acidic treats before the meal — a variety of pickles and halved lengths of crunchy pickled okra.

The concept, design and function of the restaurant may lie with the cookie company’s management team, but the kitchen work rests squarely on the shoulders of a Savannah native, James Levens, who returns home with a distinguished set of credentials.

Levens worked with some of the most respected chefs in the country  — foodie gods — at establishments such as New York’s Gramercy Tavern and The Spotted Pig, and most recently at Charleston’s celebrated high temple of nouvelle Southern cuisine, McCrady’s.

The flavors on his intriguing little menu are all very familiar – but come to table with an air of travelled sophistication.

Yeah, I’ve gushed – but deservedly.

And, if you think infatuation is guided by high price tags, think again. Sandwiches big enough to share range from $9–$12; appetizers $3–$14. Several ingredients are sourced from local farmers and Levens prepares lots of ingredients in–house: Pickles, Ricotta cheese and all the restaurant’s sauces, dressings and marmalades.

The Cookie Bar & Grill is a shiny little gem tucked away just off the well–trod intersection at Stepheson and Waters avenues. Currently, lunch is served Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. with plans to expand to dinner hours this fall. A small, well–built wine list offer just–right pairings for the menu.

This is one new restaurant well worth watching.

6000 Waters Ave./355–0977

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