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Downtown Charleston restaurants taking Savannah by storm, but Georgia city not threatened

The Darling Oyster Bar

Patrons line the dining room at The Darling Oyster Bar, which opened on King Street at Morris Street in 2016. File/Wade Spees/Staff

With The Darling Oyster Bar’s recent announcement of its plans to open in Savannah, the number of downtown Charleston restaurants which have found a second home in the city now stands at six. The Darling in Georgia will join 39 Rue de Jean, CO, Husk, Prohibition and The Fat Radish, which in Charleston operates as Basic Kitchen.

But in a marked departure from the competitive spirit which once characterized the relationship between the Lowcountry capitals, members of the Savannah culinary community say they don’t mind their northern neighbors occupying their streets.

“I guarantee there is no concern that Charleston is taking over,” says Jim Morekis, longtime editor-in chief of Connect Savannah and author of Moon travel guides to both cities.

Morekis says there are three main reasons why Savannah residents aren’t bothered by the influx, which is concentrated in a district that locals generally dismiss as a tourist zone:

First, the six restaurants with Charleston ties represent a small fraction of Savannah restaurant openings.

Second, with the exception of Husk, most people in Savannah don’t realize that the new arrivals got their start in Charleston.

And third, Morekis says recent growth has fostered an unprecedented regional solidarity, with residents of both Charleston and Savannah chafing at the swell of hotels funded by multinational money.

“We’re talking massive global players bringing money into Savannah,” Morekis says. “Charleston, by comparison, is not as imposing.”

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He continues, “They’re not really outsiders any more. They’re part of the regional family.”

Savannah’s independent restaurateurs are gravitating toward the Starland District, a neighborhood which Charleston exports haven’t yet touched. But Kyle Jacovino, who last year opened Pizzeria Vittoria there, says he’s happy to see accomplished Charleston restaurants settle near the city’s most-visited squares.

“I’m pretty excited about The Darling,” he says.

Charleston in the last few years has absorbed one Savannah transplant: Byrd Cookie Company has opened two locations on Market Street.

But those familiar with the dining scenes in both cities believe it’s unlikely the two will anytime soon attain carbon copy status. A spokeswoman for The Darling says its owners aren’t concerned about cannibalizing its existing customer base by setting up shop in Savannah.

“The city has an amazing culinary scene that we are thrilled to be a part of, and we look forward to introducing the restaurant to a new set of customers,” Kerry Welch says.

An opening date for The Darling at 27 Montgomery Street has not been disclosed. According to a release, “diners can expect a similar design aesthetic from the flagship location with nods to Savannah’s history and beauty,” in addition to a raw bar, cooked seafood dishes and cocktails.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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