When I was a kid, my parents used to bundle me up in the back of my mom’s old Pontiac Grand Am at some un-Godly hour of the morning and drive down to Savannah, Georgia, for vacation. It’s not exactly Disney World, but then again, I’m not exactly a Mousketeer.
Savannah just fit my mood; nestled against a river, cloaked in the gauzy sage of Spanish moss, the city could conjure up a storm as dark and tempestuous as you like, then vanquish it just as fast.
The cobblestone of River Street is where I developed a love of seafood. After a day of kite-flying and beach-combing on Tybee Island, we’d head back inland 15 miles and visit one of Savannah’s beloved raw bars or fish houses. Then it was shrimp cocktail, sweet tea and, my favorite, oysters. I always felt so content in those moments with my family; just a little sunburned from a day at the beach, my mom and dad relaxed, fresh seafood reviving us before a show at the theater.
Maybe it’s why I’ve always really loved oysters.
I managed to tap into some of that nostalgia during a recent trip to Wild Standard. Wild Standard is the brainchild of Chef Bradford Heap of SALT and Colterra. Like its sister restaurants, Wild Standard adheres to the same principle: Food is best when it’s seasonal, sustainable and humanely raised. All of the seafood meets the criteria of the Marine Stewardship Council, which sets the standard for sustainable fishing.
If you’ve ever dined in one of Heap’s restaurants, you’ll know the atmosphere is as meticulously crafted as the cuisine. The name of the game is still sustainability: Nearly all of the décor is recycled or reused, including the beautiful wooden beams in the ceiling, which were salvaged from a dairy farm in Wisconsin. There’s something about the earth tones of the space, the warm glow from the nuevo-rustic chandeliers, and most importantly the smell of fresh seafood that gives Wild Standard a ship-like feel. It occupies the space that housed Juanita’s Mexican Food for nearly 30 years, but unlike its predecessor it takes advantage of the space below street level.
It seemed a real treat to eat downstairs — the space defines the art of snug, a tiny bar overlooking a dining room that can seat perhaps 20, with cushioned bench seating mixed in with pillow-backed wrought iron chairs. Hidden from the world — protected even — it felt a bit like eating below deck.
On this particular evening, Wild Standard was serving four types of oysters (the Goosepoint, a Washington state-harvested mollusk, was 86 for the night). There is the Royal Miyagi, a small oyster with a slightly fluted white and purple shell from the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. This is a high-brine oyster, creamy in texture, known for presenting a melon-like flavor. The Kumamoto oysters from Washington are visually pleasing on the half shell with their deep cups and highly sculpted shells. The meat is a bit petite, but the texture is smooth and the flavor is sweet and almost fruit-like. Damariscotta oysters are harvested from a tidal river by the same name in Maine, known for its massive oyster middens. These are full-flavored, salty oysters with a clean finish. Last but not least, the Chunu oyster comes from Virginia, with a high brine but balanced, classic oyster flavor — much like the kind I ate as a child.
Maybe it was all the omega-3 from the oysters (or the glass of wine), but sitting in Wild Standard I could swear my nose felt a little sunburned, like I’d spent the day looking upward as my kite flew high over Savannah.
Wild Standard. 1043 Pearl St.,