A single friend recently asked my husband and me what the secret is to a happy marriage. We burst out laughing.
“Hell if we know,” we cackled simultaneously.
Truth is, after the day’s mad dance of work and shlepping to kids’ activities and throwing some kale in a pot for dinner before packing lunches and paying bills and starting the whole process over again, encountering each other in the hallway on the way to bed tends to be a pleasant surprise. “Oh, are you still here?”
So maybe it’s staying busy that’s kept us grooving along for 14 years. That and earplugs.
Certain niceties do tend to slip in our life of constant chaos, like closing the door to the bathroom and retaining personal ownership of one’s deodorant. Even our anniversary celebrations can get pushed aside in favor of band concerts and science projects and deadlines. We dimly remembered eating takeout out of Styrofoam containers after mattress shopping last year and vowed to do something classier this time, lest we end up falling asleep at the kitchen table after snarfing a box of Chex cereal.
It doesn’t get any more splendid than Elizabeth on 37th. Chef Elizabeth and Michael Terry turned Savannah on its ear with their notions about real estate and cuisine when they opened in 1981, yet the awards and the loyal customers kept on coming. This grande dame of Savannah fine dining has served exquisite, regionally–sourced nouvelle Southern cuisine in its stately Neoclassical/Beaux Arts mansion long before anyone coined the word “locavore” and back when hanging around that section of town required pepper spray and a can full of crazy.
Though the couple eventually left the restaurant in the capable hands of longtime employees Gary and Greg Butch and moved out West, many locals remember their generosity and mourned deeply when Michael passed away last August.
I’d been there just once for our second anniversary, both of us goggle-eyed with new baby sleep deprivation. I wore a dress far too tight and tragically, had to skip dessert. I do recall that we fell madly in love with truffles for the first time that night, a torrid ménage à trois that continues to raise eyebrows amongst our more simple-palated friends.
Though he likes to brag he ate at Elizabeth’s (as it’s inevitably called) for his senior prom, neither of us have been back for a dozen years. We’ve been distracted by other restaurants and intimidated by an expensive evening out—especially, as my gifted husband likes to attest, since he can cook almost anything at home. (Unfortunately, we haven’t had much luck digging up our own truffles.)
But maybe one of the secrets to marriage is knowing when to splurge.
As we passed through the sublime gardens and massive stone steps leading up to the deep porch, there was a distinct sensation of passing into another dimension, a more genteel place on the time–space continuum that us regular folks normally inhabit.
Beyond the pocket doors of the dark wood dining room, SCAD Building Arts dean Christian Sottile held court at a round table for seven. We shared a group hug with Sundial Charters owners Rene and David Heidt, also celebrating their 14th anniversary (must’ve been a whole lotta love going around that weekend in 1998.) Other tables were occupied by couples, most as old and elegant as a satin smoking jacket.
Our friend and server Aly Morita had put in a nice word, and the hostess led us to a tucked–away banquette that I immediately deemed the Canoodling Corner. Gary Butch poured us flutes of champagne and described the evening’s specials with the unbridled alacrity of an Emory philosophy lecturer. Which, actually, sometimes he is.
“Eh, I’m just a waiter,” he shrugged, then launched into a fascinating discourse on the nature of reality, peppered with references to Kierkegaard, quantum physics and the occasional “Do ya follow me?” Anywhere, my good man.
His pony–tailed brother, Greg, could also be seen working the floor, bustling in and out of the tiny kitchen with Zen–like grace. The brothers have opened the restaurant to a host of altruistic events in the last few years, and it’s become a favorite stop for the Tibetan monks when they pass through to create their sacred sand mandalas. I’ve worked in enough restaurants to know that being waited on by the owner is fairly unheard of, and the Butchs’ humble, hands-on dedication has to be one of the reasons Elizabeth on 37th’s storied ambience and fine flavors endure.
Oh, and the flavors: Our dinner officially began with an amuse–bouche trio of a tiny puff pastry filled with pimento cheese, a single spicy mussel bathed in tomatoes that had been smoked for hours and a two–bite button of melt–in–your–mouth salmon in wasabi cream sauce. Next came soft local scallops sprinkled with butterbeans and generously doused in that heavenly truffle oil, along with a rich roasted eggplant–shiitake mushroom–red pepper–tomato soup redolent of a backyard garden on a sunny afternoon. Then a dish of Sapelo Island clams served with savory miniature madeleines to soak up the sauce, followed by a delicately–dressed salad of greens picked less than a block away.
We could taste the time and love put into this haute cuisine by Chef Kelly Yambor and her husband Jeremy, the power couple that continues the Terry’s kitchen legacy, distinctly Southern without the big–toothed twang.
By the time our entrées arrived, we were already swooning, though the Caymus Pinot Noir may be partly to blame. (“Like steak in a glass,” murmured my beloved.)
Finally, almost four hours later, dessert: A divine pecan–almond tart paired with a 35 year–old Muscat, warm and cozy as an old leather chair. Yes, it was worth waiting 12 years.
Over coffee, my husband and I promised that we won’t let life’s celebrations slip away anymore. For less than the price of two meals at a mediocre restaurant, we could come to Elizabeth’s again, for no reason at all.
We are worth it. So are you.
Perhaps a good marriage is like a fine restaurant, holding an elegant yet homey space and nourishing with what’s in season. What universal elements have the Butches mastered to pull off this marvelous balance?
They’re not telling, just clearing the empty dishes with a small smile and a gracious bow.