This is a restaurant that’s more about the soul than the alligator. Owner Maureen Craig and her late husband, Hilary, put their soul into this unique dining spot and the high standard of service and quality it strives to maintain. The menu – with a few surprises on it – measures up to that standard.
Alligator Soul is an unusual name for a restaurant, but it says a lot about how owner Maureen Craig approaches her business and her relationship with others in general. “The word ‘soul,’ simply put, stands for integrity,” she says. “It stands for the impact any of us can make in the world each day for good.” The word “alligator,” she says, “represents the physical or outward appearance of an individual. Where do we as individuals or a society want our emphasis to be? On the exterior of a person or on the integrity or soul? Should it matter what we look like, or should it matter how we walk in the world? Craig’s late husband, Hilary, she says, “was a man of honor who loved to cook and loved to serve. The joy he felt in taking care of guests was palpable.” She says that’s the quality that most resonates with her in Alligator Soul’s executive chef, Stephen McLain.
Pictured above: Chef Mclain's Creation
Whole roasted free range pheasant over farro and wild rice pilaf of apple, cranberry, and pistachio, served with Kachina Farms organic swiss chard and Readees Bees wildflower honey braised shallots. The food offering is symbolic of how Alligator Soul regards the privilege to welcome and serve each of our honored guests, as well as the opportunity to conscientiously nurture and support our community. The bountiful, family style presentation encourages interaction and fosters a shared experience. The ingredients were responsibly selected from all natural sources, and reflect our commitment to promote environmentally sustainable farming and agriculture. The inspiration and composition of this dish, and all that Alligator Soul provides, is truly a collaboration between the hard working people who tend the soil and the graciously fortunate who feed the soul. Created by Chef McLain.
Three Alligator Soul restaurants have been opened by the Craigs over a 20-year time span, the first two on the West Coast, the third opening in Savannah in March of 2003. All three restaurants have had their share of accolades, she says. Working with local farmers, meat purveyors and alcohol distributors to ensure having the highest quality products available and always addressing the humane treatment of all animals were always paramount to the three restaurant teams. “I work each day with a group of really smart and talented staff,” Craig said. “They understand and believe in the value of all the products represented here at Alligator Soul and understand that for each of the guests — from the moment they walk in the door until the moment they leave – it’s all about them!” She adds: “We may not be able to hit it out of the park every day, but I promise you it’s not for lack of trying. So come, eat, drink and relax your soul!
Savannah’s Alligator Soul was opened in an underground setting – a former grain warehouse in the heart of town built around 1885. Hilary Craig had built a career developing movie sets before going into the restaurant business, and this experience came in handy during the renovations. The beautiful bar was built to his specifications. Maureen added a seating area with comfortable sofas around a fireplace because she found that guests appreciated a spot where they could relax in a home-like setting and enjoy drinks and a conversation. Hilary died in 2007, but Maureen wanted to build on the couple’s legacy.
"I talk to as many guests as I can. When you come here you should always feel that you were recognized as an individual. You’re important."
A setback came in May, when torrential rain poured through Savannah streets and somehow accumulated outside their basement kitchen wall. As workers were preparing for dinner, a deluge of water, dirt and sand poured through a breach in one of the kitchen walls, flooding the restaurant in minutes. “It came in like the fire department opened three hoses,” she told the Savannah Morning News. The restaurant reopened in August, and fingers were crossed as two hurricanes – Hermine and Matthew – brought more drenching rains to the area. Matthew passed close offshore, but no further damage occurred, and Alligator Soul continues to seek out the South’s best ingredients for its menu, forging relationships with local and regional farmers and food purveyors. A vegetarian herself, Maureen Craig makes it a point to have at least one vegetarian dish on the menu at all times. The item is always listed on the menu as “Veggies Fear Not,” and the ingredients in the dish each night are detailed to interested guests. The Alligator Soul kitchen also prepares special dishes that go on the “Wild and Adventurous” section of the menu. Here you might find exotic selections like elk, wild boar – even kangaroo and ostrich! “Game is very popular,” says Craig, and Alligator Soul makes it a point to include as much fresh, local seafood as possible, including shrimp and oysters sourced from the nearby waters of Georgia and South Carolina. As a final expression of Alligator Soul’s hospitality, the staff extends its thanks to each departing guest as they escort them to the door and wish them a safe journey. “That’s an important part of the overall experience that we want all of our guests to have when they visit us,” says Craig. “We appreciate them so much.”
Visit Alligator Soul online, alligatorsoul.com, or in person at 114 Barnard St Savannah, GA 31401.