8413 Ferguson Ave., 912/356-5463,
When Keith Latture's daddy retired from the little barbecue place he founded in Sandfly, Keith decided it was time to take a break from the world of fine dining. He'd been chef for years at Local 11ten downtown, and before that he served at the Ritz-Carlton in Miami, but he was feeling the need for something different... and Sandfly gained a smoky gem in its crown.
With dedication—and some damn good recipes in hand—he proceeded to make this tiny corner spot, sequestered in a strip mall, into something wonderful indeed. He also showed he had a unique way with his customers, of listening to what they wanted: from the four old license plates up on the wall that grew to include all but Nevada and Nebraska ("Everybody just started bringing 'em in!") to the recipe for a truly luscious coconut cake with buttercream icing he received from a lady whose recently-deceased aunt had passed it on to her.
His incredible smoked salmon came by request from another barbecue fan, and word of its flavor and careful preparation passed word-of-mouth around Sandfly until it's become a regular must-have item for local parties.
Keith grew up in Memphis, a world-renowned home of barbecue, and brought that love of smoked cuisine with him to Savannah. Some well-loved items associated with Georgia barbecue were new to him, such as Brunswick stew, but he set about researching and developed a recipe that fit perfectly with his ideas. The rich, smoky flavor comes from the chicken, beef and pork prepared in his own smoker out back.
I have to say that his barbecue beans are the best I've ever tasted anywhere, bar none not a drop of Liquid Smoke comes near them. Keith smokes his own bacon, adds it to the beans with his special mustard-based sauce, then lays the beans out in a pan and smokes them for three solid hours. The depth and intensity of the flavor are unique and very addictive!
"I think one of the things that makes us so special is our attention to detail. Our fries are fresh, hand-cut; our greens are cooked just right with smoked meat, tender and tasty," he tells me.
"We pay attention to the quality and we listen to our customers; we have specials you don't see everywhere, like our gumbo with chicken and andouille sausage or the po' boy sandwiches."
Keith talks Tennessee:
"Around Memphis there is a long tradition reaching back to the 19th century of tamale stalls manned by African-Americans who got the recipe from Mexican immigrants who had passed through the region a half-century before," he explains.
"I've always loved those pork tamales and I decided to start selling them here—they've been a big hit," he says. "It's hard to keep up with the demand, but with their popularity being so certain, I'm gonna start serving them up more often."
Just around the corner from the Bi-Lo (formerly Piggly Wiggly) off Skidaway Road, his place is small and tucked away. But nearly every time I've passed by the parking lot is full, and customers have filled up even the outside tables and are lined up inside waiting for their orders.
On a Friday night the place was hoppin', Milena and Anna were joshin' with the regulars, and Joe was chopping 'cue in the close-quartered, clean kitchen, which is open viewing to anyone at the counter. The enticing scent of smoked meat pulled us toward the blackboard menu to see what was being offered.
Keith had included a fine-lookin' smoked beef brisket among the expected chopped/pulled pork and smoked chicken. The big coconut cake under the glass dome looked tempting, even for someone who didn't usually order dessert.
I ordered ribs and chopped barbecue, with collards and baked beans, and fell in love with the tender meaty ribs and amazing flavors—I've never tasted such beans before or since.
The Texas Toast—not a thick piece of bread soaked in melted margarine, but delicately golden brown on both sides, buttery and delicious—is just another one of those small details of which Latture is so fond.
My hubby's half-pound of smoked brisket made us yearn for more and the fries were deliciously, obviously fresh.
Subsequent visits familiarized me with their incredible coconut cake (save room, 'cuz it's truly worth puttin' half your dinner up in a to-go box for), and I was finally drawn in for good upon tasting the juicy smoked chicken breast—so many places serve smoked chicken that's dry and a little tough, but not here—from the first cut to the last the moistness and tenderness win you over.
Every time I go there I leave impressed and planning when I can make it back again soon—for those smoky beans or the tender pork, makes no difference—and I'm confident that Keith and his staff of friendly folks will serve me up some of the best-tasting BBQ around.