My travel buddy and I bounded out the doors of our hotel and turned left, low-key galloping down the street with a determined focus. In just 15 minutes, happy hour would end at our new favorite restaurant.
In Savannah, Ga., for a long weekend, my mom and I were staying on the north side of the city's historic district along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Grey, a 2-year-old restaurant that has received national acclaim, happened to be a five-minute walk from our Hampton Inn. Good thing. It's how we were able to plop down onto two bar stools with 10 minutes to spare.
The Grey, we would come to find out, is a miraculous restaurant that combines a couple of key things: local, chef-driven fare; a playful cocktail program (they have been cheekily serving pina coladas to contend with Savannah's 75-degree January temps); excellent service; mustachioed sommeliers; and, most importantly, a happy hour.
In fact, the Grey's happy hour runs every day it is open from 4 to 6 p.m. in what it calls its Diner Bar: half-off oysters, and glasses of sparkling Riesling and Lustau Fino Sherry.
The deals aren't what drew us there. In preparation for our trip, I had read about the place helmed by chef Mashama Bailey, written about in the New York Times and at Eater.com and nominated shortly after it opened for a James Beard Best New Restaurant Award. But they are what brought us back for the second time in two days.
Specifically, the novelty of a $35 check that included two drinks and small bites for both of us.
The night before, we caught the restaurant's happy hour before our 6:30 dinner reservation. On our return, we feasted on the bar's accompanying food menu, which didn't need to be discounted to provide a bargain. A sampling of items one might put on a giant cheese plate, we ordered from warm pecans or olives ($5), pickled veggies ($4) and meats and cheeses ranging from $6 to $9 for one kind. Yes, you can order just one cheese, and it will be served on a board with crusty bread and homemade jelly just like a platter of four would be. Add to that a Red Rice Cake ($1.50) or Ham and Potato Croquette ($2), and you will not leave hungry.
While popping a handful of salty pecans, I thought about how this isn't an experience I come by often in the Tampa Bay area. In 2016, it became difficult to ignore the fact that I was spending close to $35 for one meal at many of the area's most esteemed restaurants, hardly any of which have respectable happy hours.
As we sipped our $4 glasses of Riesling and scooped up the last of the blue cheese, I couldn't help but think what a treat it was to be able to experience this kind of restaurant in such a casual, accessible, affordable way.
This brings me to our food critic Laura Reiley's annual list of the Top 50 Restaurants of Tampa Bay, which debuts Thursday at tampabay.com/food. In an effort to switch things up and reflect the state of local dining, she has chosen 50 places at which you can grab a meal for (roughly) $10 or less.
I'll raise a discounted glass of bubbly to that.