Who is up at dawn on Valentine’s Day? We are. Your trusty WQED breakfast crew.
We’ve come to Tybee Island, just east of the city of Savannah, Georgia, to tape a busy Sunday morning at The Breakfast Club, a legendary morning restaurant. At 7 am, just as The Breakfast Club is ready to open, the sun is ready to jump out of the Atlantic Ocean, and Bob and Glenn climb the dune-walkway closest to the restaurant in order to get some beautiful sunrise shots.
I stick my head in the restaurant and say we’re here! but we’ll be a few more minutes. Jodee Sadowsky, the energetic chef/owner welcomes me, shows me that my name is painted on the side window and my picture is on the menu for today! This could be fun.
The place feels like a diner. Crowded, lively, lots of chatter. Glenn puts a microphone on Jodee so we can hear everything he says, but already people are saying, “Oh Jodee is so nice today. He’s smiling! You never see that when the TV cameras aren’t here.” Nothing makes you feel more like home than some early morning taunting.
The pace of the place increases as the morning goes on. The three cooks (Justin, Chris and Franklin) who work beside Jodee are the three hardest working men in the food business. They are fixing eggs, making pancakes, rolling omelets, home-frying potatoes, cooking pork and tilapia, frenching the toast. Jodee is at the end of the line, assembling the plates, adding the grits, manning the toasters, hollering orders. It’s a well-run machine. Great theater. Better than any morning TV you ever saw.
It’s also Tybee Island Mardi Gras, so there are some people dressed as if they were in New Orleans, and the special today is called Who Dat? (The New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl last Sunday, February 7, and the Who Dat Nation of Saints fans is suddenly everywhere, trying to be as big as the Steeler Nation.) The Who Dat Special is eggs, homemade boudin and spicy Louisiana chicken and bacon sausages, along with grits topped today with gumbo. Yum.
As usual, we talk to anyone and everyone about why they’re here, what they think of the food, and what they know about this place. We talk to one family that’s there to celebrate Dad’s 50th birthday. The Guedrys have come from Atlanta: Dad Doug, Mom Jules, and their two girls, Laine and Ella, and although they’ve never been here before, they’ve been told it’s great.
We take their picture, then Jules takes ours with the birthday boy.
There is another large side room (where you can’t see the cooks) with more tables, but I didn’t take any pictures there. (I just wasn’t thinking.) After about 9:30 or so, there’s a line outside, and everyone says it’s not as long as the summer lines when they stretch back to the beach about a block or so away. Jodee’s food has the reputation of being worth dawdling for.
Mid-morning, I ask Jodee to make Bob and Glenn and me each a small bowl of gumbo grits. That’s what I’ve been dying to try. Good and spicy. A hearty and flavorful variation on shrimp & grits. Jodee says he’s used okra and file in the gumbo. Good and thick.
About noontime, Leon Slotin shows up. Leon and his daughter Jane, an old college friend of mine from UNC at Chapel Hill, first brought me here to the Breakfast Club back in the 1980s when Jodee was just getting started (although I think he had attracted a crowd and a line even back then.) Leon and his wife Nancy live in Savannah, and he came out to make sure all was going well for us. I told Jodee that Leon was the reason we were here, and Jodee declared, “Free breakfast for Leon!”
The place is usually open till 1 p.m. or so, but there comes a time, and Jodee says, “I’m gonna say something that will make everybody who works here happy. Flip ’em!” That means the signs are flipped from OPEN to CLOSED, and the last person in line is to tell anybody else who walks up that the place is closed. And the crew will feed everybody in line, but it’s time to call it quits in the early afternoon. There’s still a lot of clean-up and prep to do for tomorrow, and Jodee’s having trouble with one of his heating chests or something. He smiles with a breakfast sandwich for the camera.
We order before they shut down the griddles. Glenn gets the eggs Florentine. I get the Who Dat, and I can’t remember what Bob gets. Good food. Fun times. A great breakfast spot.
If you go, be sure to leave a special tip for the cooks. Beer money. If you do, they ring you a big thank you on a triangle above the toasters!