Settle in for lunch, family style.
Underneath mossy trees at 107 West Jones Street in the Savannah Historic District there stands a restaurant that is more than just an eatery—it’s a Southern icon.
Inside Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, guests are greeted with a family-style lunch served at communal tables, tables at which they chat with strangers who quickly become friends over a meal so delicious and so Southern they find themselves planning their next visit before they’ve finished their last bite.
Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room offers Southern hospitality at its finest, and it’s been fine since 1943, when Ms. Selma Wilkes took the helm of a historic boardinghouse and turned it into one of the most welcoming homespun eateries in Georgia. This particular boardinghouse tradition turned into Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, a spot where guests still pull up chairs alongside their neighbors and dig into beloved Southern classics.
Today, the restaurant is stewarded by restaurateur Marcia Thompson, granddaughter of the late Selma Wilkes. Stop in for lunch, and you’ll be treated like family. You’ll also be treated to the classics—good conversation and even better food in dishes you’ll be asked to pass around the table family style. There are no menus at Mrs. Wilkes’; instead, when you arrive in the dining room, you’re invited to scoop all of the freshly prepared Southern classics, the selection of which changes each day in true boardinghouse fashion. (Fried chicken, cornbread dressing, and okra gumbo, anyone?) It’s a Savannah institution, and one you shouldn’t miss if you find yourself hungry in the city. Even former President Barack Obama stopped by to enjoy a Mrs. Wilkes’ lunch when he was in Savannah in 2010.
If you’re craving lunch from Mrs. Wilkes’ but are miles from Savannah (as so many of us are), you should pick up a Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse Cookbook for your collection. In it is a history of the Wilkes family as well as Selma Wilkes’ signature recipes, plenty of which are still served in the dining room, including her biscuits, banana pudding, cornbread dressing, and sweet potato soufflé. You can try a few of the beloved recipes for yourself, because several are available online.
The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Get there early for a seat and a delicious, heaping plate. Keep in mind that the dining room is closed during the month of January. Come February through December, though, guests can pull up a chair and enjoy the one-of-a-kind lunch that comes from the storied kitchen at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room.
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Have you ever eaten at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room? What are your favorite Savannah restaurants for a classic Southern lunch?