Why Nothing Tastes Sweeter Than A River Street Praline

Just the smells of burnt sugar and toasted nuts take me back in time.

Praline & Bear Claw Combo- Classic Box

Courtesy River Street Sweets

Southern-style pralines are among my favorite flavors from growing up. Soft and a little crumbly, with a tender snap from halved pecans and a warm caramel taste that melts in your mouth, these sweets remain incredibly special to me.  

Pralines don’t come from the place I was born—Puerto Rico—but rather from Georgia, where I grew up. I lived in the suburbs outside of Atlanta, but my mother loved going on excursions to destinations that were just close enough for a same-day round trip. Savannah was one of our favorites, particularly over the holidays, when iconic River Street was festooned with ribbons and wreaths. 

For me, Savannah always felt so romantic. The jasmine creeping up the railings of townhomes lit by gas lanterns and the Spanish moss cascading from massive oak trees captured my imagination; as did the occasional horse-drawn carriage click-clacking down worn stone streets.

I later learned that historic downtown Savannah was heavily manicured, masking the endemic poverty and inequity in the surrounding city. So often sweet memories sit alongside bitter ones. Many of these days in Savannah were set against the backdrop of my parents’ separation and the instability that followed. But in many ways, that made the pralines all the more special. 

I’ve eaten dozens of these candies over the years, and most have come from River Street Sweets—because when I tried packaged versions, they paled in comparison. Food can be wondrous not just because of flavor and aroma. The process and context in which it’s enjoyed is a critical part of what makes certain tastes truly delicious. 

At River Street Sweets, the journey begins before you even walk through the door. Large glass windows reveal skilled confectionery alchemists pouring white sugar, half-and-half, and butter into a custom mixer (which they call the “praline pot”). It works like a double boiler, evenly heating the mixture while stirring continuously. Pecan halves are added at just the right time, and then individual candies are scooped directly onto a cool white marble countertop. Each settles into an amorphous mass, which hardens in about five minutes. The glass partition between you and the pralines is key, because otherwise it would be impossible to avoid snatching one up—maybe even before it has had the chance to fully cool.

My earliest memories of River Street Sweets are all joyful. It was the closest thing to Willy Wonka I had ever seen, and the aromas of burnt sugar, toasted nuts, and chocolate fudge were intoxicating. Over the years, I’ve returned to Savannah many times, and I can’t help but stop by this shop for the treat they’re famous for. I only wish they’d open a store near my home in North Carolina so I could relive this experience every week.

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