Tybee Island is a little beach town outside of Savannah that’s mainly made up of hotels and restaurants that have seen better days, if you’re looking for something fancy…this isn’t your spot. Not to say that there aren’t some nice condos and homes, but for the most part it’s pretty red…which can be a good thing if you want a super laid back, never have to wear anything but flip flops and t-shirt kind of place. There are plenty of crappy, stale smoke smelling joints cranking out subpar bar food and fried baskets of all varieties (see Fannie’s, Spanky’s and the like), but there are also some really good spots; some are hidden gems away from the hustle and bustle of the pier and others are hidden in plain sight.
Our first stop was at AJ’s Dockside which is on the Back River in the back of a residential neighborhood; they have great outdoor seating on their dock and seafood is their specialty. They had the best deviled crab on the island (I tired 4 places!) and their conch fritters were moist and well-seasoned with a little bit of a spice kick; it’s hard to beat eating fresh seafood on the water with a great sunset and a little breeze!
The one place I kept hearing about was the Sundae Café and it was described as having a perfect 10 for food and a 1 for atmosphere; I wasn’t sure this was possible until I pulled up and realized it was tucked between a quickie mart gas station and a liquor store…
I was pretty skeptical, but once you walk through the doors you’re transported to another place; one of white table clothes, non-plastic utensils and stemware! This is definitely the fanciest restaurant on the island, so if you’re going to leave the flip flops at home now would be the time! Their menu is full of great seafood specialties like pistachio encrusted tuna and pan seared lump crab cakes. The portion size of the tuna was ridiculous…in a good way; two huge slabs of perfectly rare ahi!
In addition to the mains, appetizers like the ahi tuna nachos and southern oysters Rockefeller (with an awesome tasso hollandaise sauce) are worth checking out! Definitely check this place out if you’re on the island!
Almost everyone that goes to Tybee or Savannah has gone to the Crab Shack at one time or another, and I can remember my first visits when it was just a small dock and restaurant that set less than 50…it has now turned into a mini South of the Border-like tourist trap complete with alligator feedings, a cat house, an indoor tropical bird refuge (really just a bunch of stinky cages) and even a large gift shop…good lord. Despite all of this, their food is still pretty solid and the people watching alone is worth the trip.
You really can’t go wrong with the low country boil or the raw oysters, and the peel and eat shrimp were perfectly cooked; not too long to make them tough…which is what I half expected. The deviled crab was also solid, albeit a little pricey, and the oysters were super fresh and tasted like the sea. I’m not saying this place is great, but it’s definitely worth a visit; if you go, ask to sit on the dock and kick back with a few cocktails!
The last spot we hit up is probably the most progressive restaurant on the island and it definitely does not fit in with its surroundings. The Tybee Social Club is hip and their menu is anything but boring, including their drinks with their hand made mixers; this place would be more comfortable in South Beach than Tybee.
Their menu features local seafood, but also has an interesting selection of tacos (duck, orange pork) and burgers (chorizo, truffle). Starters include homemade pork rinds, shrimp nachos and a pretty good manchego cheese skillet.
The tacos we had were pretty good, but I wasn’t a fan of the pita-like wrap they were served in (sort of like Indian fry bread), and at $6 a taco I felt like I got ripped off a little bit.
The burger was pretty solid and the sweet potato fries were also good. Of everything we tried, the drinks were by far the best ; the margarita with fresh lime, lemon and simple syrup was one of the best I’ve had in years, and the Pimm’s cup was solid to boot. While they’re not really breaking any new culinary ground at Social, it’s definitely a nice alternative to everything else on the island and worth a look for the drinks alone!
Whatever your opinion of Tybee Island is, at least know that there are some pretty good restaurants where you can go and get away from all of the chain smoking, cheap tattoo laden and otherwise obese tourists that seem to populate a one square mile area around the pier…