Savannah’s Deli & Grille (old review)

/ Updated on December 20, 2016

Savannah’s has had a change in ownership and will require a new review. I left the old review below for your enjoyment and perusal, but do note that things will most probably be different from what I have written about below. Not necessarily better or worse, but certainly different. That’s why I need to go back and see how things are.

It’s a BBQ joint. No, it’s a gas station. It’s a BBQ joint. It’s a gas station! No, it’s two, two, two places in one! (If you don’t get that, you are charmingly yet annoyingly young.)

But wait, there’s more! It’s also a car repair shop. In fact, the Liberty Gas Station / Hazzard Auto Repair / Savannah’s Deli & Grille complex along the Medical Mile on Savannah Road in Lewes is one-stop shopping for BBQ and fried chicken lovers who happen to own recalcitrant cars. Where else can you actually look forward to a brake job!?!

Former owner Bill White rolled that industrial-strength smoker out into the parking lot and since then that stretch of Savannah Road smells delicious on the smokin’ days. This is certainly part of the reason why automobile maven Bryan Hecksher maintains his popular Auto Gallery dealership across the street. Hecksher sums it up with a smile: “I know about 2 things: cars and calories!” And both are in abundance there by the train tracks in Lewes.

Foodie Fans know that the most recent restaurant I owned was a BBQ place. So of course we’ll talk about that first. It’s unusual for a BBQ joint to venture cross-platform between Memphis style and North Carolina style cooking. But White pulls it off with grace and aplomb. North Carolina style BBQ is prepared with a vinegar-based sauce. Regional differences aside (eastern NC and western NC favor two different preparations), the North Carolina Pulled Pork sandwich – not as much pulled as it is shredded – sports a mild vinegar-based sauce that allows you to taste the smokiness of the pork without your salivary glands going into overdrive from the acid. It’s served on a not-too-firm bun and presented Blackwood’s Drive-In (Mountain, NC)-style: Wrapped halfway in black-and-white checkered wax paper. It’s a simply prepared and generously portioned tribute to the kind and generous porker and is a must-get at Savannah’s Deli & Grille.

The pork sandwich shares the spotlight with the Texas Beef Brisket sandwich, except that the brisket is served Memphis-style with a tomato-based BBQ sauce. Many places prepare that sauce with waaayyy too much brown sugar (and/or molasses). White’s spicy BBQ sauce is mildly smoky with just a touch of sweetness. The brisket is surprisingly lean, generously portioned with properly thin slices with a delectably dark crust on the outside. Another must-get.

Can’t decide whether to get a hamburger or the brisket? Get the Raging Bull (a burger topped with BBQ brisket and a spicy jalapeno-laced cheddar). Don’t worry – it has lettuce and tomato, so it’s healthy. Similarly, if you’re undecided over the pulled pork or a ham sandwich, get The Boss Hog (the North Carolina BBQ pork married to thinly sliced smoked ham and, of course, applewood smoked bacon). The Boss Hog is a carnivore’s dream-come-true, and is particularly special because you can taste every kind of meat on the sandwich (see the photo in the gallery). I suggest you ask the boys in the kitchen to fold in some banana pepper rings and top it with slaw. Slaw is made from cabbage. Cabbage is a vegetable. So now the sandwich is even more healthy. See how that works…?

Savannah’s Deli & Grille also offers a DIY Club Sandwich. The one pictured in the gallery is the turkey and bacon variety, but you can customize it with any of the meats or cheeses and even tuna or chicken salad. And yes, it is cut regulation-style into quarters and served pointy sides up, as it should be.

I’ve been getting emails about this place for about 6 months, and one of the recurring themes is the Cheesesteak. Like the Dog House in New Castle, De., the Cheesesteak at Savannah’s is a sleeper here in Lewes. The beef (or chicken — take your pick) is thinly sliced (not chipped, though there’s nothing wrong with that) and is presented on a fresh and thankfully soft 9” roll; the perfect lunch size (fressers can get it in 12”). Decorate it with just about anything your little heart desires. The Chicken Cheesesteak deserves special mention because they put a little brown roast on the meat before putting it in the sandwich. It makes for a nice mouth feel and an even better taste.

Cool your jets. We can’t move on to the fried chicken until we talk about the ribs. When ribs come out of a smoker, but they are sort of gray. Done, but gray. They must be finished with a quick sear over a flame, under a Sally or a broiler, imparting a mouthwatering crust over the top of the rack that not only tastes good, but holds the sauce. Savannah’s has a slightly different method that results in the exact same effect: The ribs are smoked low & slow until tender, then cooled until they are ordered. Then they are given a quick shot in the microwave (otherwise the outside will burn before the inside is warmed), sauced, then put into a hot oven to crisp up. The baby backs are served with your choice of a smoky/sweet or smoky/spicy sauce. Get the spicy. It’s redolent of savory smoke, not all that spicy hot and it has a bright, acidic kick. My only gripe about the ribs is that, at least at my last visit, they don’t fully remove the layer of silver (a thin, skin-like covering) on the back of the rack. It’s certainly edible, but not very appetizing. The rack will smoke up better and present more attractively if they peel that layer off the back before smoking. Note, dear Reader, that this is not a reason to eschew Savannah’s baby backs! But BBQ is my thing, and these guys are pros. So I have to be nitpicky. I hope they don’t throw me out the next time I go in there….

The meats that are not prepared on the premises, such as the pastrami, corned beef, turkey, etc. are all from Boar’s Head. It’s a quality brand and makes for tasty sandwiches.

OK. It’s Fried Chicken time. In the words of Rehoboth Beach über-chef Hari Cameron, “Delaware is the state where there are more chickens than there are people.” And one of the Delmarvalous things (sorry, I hate that too, but I had to do it) we like to do with those surplus pullets is fry ‘em up. Everybody has their casual fast-food favorites: The sadly gone Holiday Chicken in Long Neck (though newbie Napoli Pizzeria is trying to duplicate it, with mixed success); Kick’n Chicken in Lewes and Long Neck (they have their fans, though I miss the one in Rehoboth Beach); and best-kept secrets like Gus & Gus’ Place on the Boardwalk, Royal Farms everywhere and, let’s face it, Popeye’s. (Don’t email me! I’ve seen you there.) We can now add Savannah’s Deli & Grille to that list. If you like the fried chicken at any one of the previously mentioned places, you will like this one. It’s consistent, well-spiced and priced.

A word of warning! If you like your fried chicken crispy and crunchy and to-go, give them enough advance notice (especially after 2:00 p.m.) so they can make it and put it in the heated case unboxed so it can cool off. There’s nothing worse than piping hot, fresh out of the fryer pieces dumped into a bucket or box and then sealed. The chicken steams itself to death and comes out soggy. If you order your chick to eat-in, no problem: They serve it in a fun paper tray and it has time to cool to a crispy finish. I really like the spices they use in the dredge. The gentle dominance of salt gives each piece that wonderful kick that keeps you coming back for more. The back of the menu has 29 (count ‘em: 29!) different ways you can order the chicken. Just make sure that when it’s to-go that it’s been allowed to cool first. Or at least take the bucket/box without the top.

By the way, as much as I like the chicken, the rolls that come with the large orders are way too firm and dry. I suggested they use the softer, more user-friendly Martin’s Potato Rolls (the slider-style “dinner” rolls). Fried chicken needs soft, yeasty Parker-House-style rolls you can wrap around that chunk of breast meat. Sadly, Savannah’s are not of that persuasion. A small issue and no reason to turn your back on the chicken. Look at what they did:

UPDATE! Gadzooks! The affable Bill White (no longer there, but the food is just as good) took The Foodie’s suggestion and has replaced those overly firm rolls with … what else? … Martin’s Dinner Rolls (the same ones lots of places use for sliders). These soft, yeasty and flavorful rolls are the perfect accompaniment to that freshly fried chicken. The Foodie likes to pull the breast meat off the bone — crunchy coating and all — and make a little sandwich with it. The Martin’s roll wraps itself around that chicken breast and makes for the perfect mini-bite.

The sandwich rolls (burgers/pork / brisket sandwiches), though similar in appearance, are freshly soft and just fine. And the sub rolls are also fresh and quite good. Now the bread situation is 100% at Savannah’s deli & Grille.

By the way, I have received emails complaining about the speed of the service. Well, pretty much everything is prepared to order, and when they are busy it might take 15-20 minutes or so. Dawn, Jennifer and the other ladies at the counter make a point of writing the time you placed the order right on your check. This is a good way for them to track ticket times, so I suspect they are working on that issue. I’ve been there 7 times so far, and have never waited more than 15 minutes for anything other than fried chicken they had to make fresh late in the day. That takes 20 minutes no matter how much in a hurry you are.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I will quickly tell you about a few more tasty items on the menu. If they have the smoked crab/corn chowder, get it! Trust your Foodie on this one. Also, the beans have a delightfully smokey flavor, and like the sauces, are not too sweet. And the friendly guys in the kitchen often throw some brisket in there if you have behaved yourself. I know I whined about the rolls, so substitute the biscuits for them! They are quite traditional and amazingly light — a bit reminiscent of KFC’s original biscuits (when they were prepared properly). Slather a little butter on ’em and all is well with the world.

I have included Savannah’s Deli & Grill in the “Hidden Gems” category in an upcoming update of my travel app, Rehoboth In My Pocket. It’s just about as informal as you can get, and the combination of casual Eastern Shore dining with gas station sensibilities is inexplicably charming.

This smoky tribute to casual Delaware cuisine and automobiles is located at 1141 Savannah Road in Lewes. They are open from 6:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. 6 days in season and 7 days (in-season holiday weekends — call first!). But always call. This is lower/slower Delaware after all, and y’never know. They also deliver locally with a $20 minimum. 302-645-9041. Check out the menu by clicking here.  (If you are on mobile, turn on Wi-Fi. It’s a big, clunky pdf.) (B., L., D.) Price range: Inexpensive +.

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The Rehoboth Foodie

About the Author

"My goal is to promote Rehoboth Beach dining while remaining honest and impartial. I don’t gush unless a place deserves it, and I don’t pull punches, either. With so many good places to eat around here, it just doesn’t make sense to waste the calories — or the money — on anything less." View all articles written by The Rehoboth Foodie

Add Your Comment
  1. Char says:

    Went a few months ago for breakfast and the scrapple sandwiches are awesome! I do find it odd that they are not open on Sundays in the summer. My friends stopped for breakfast on their way to Wilmington and were disappointed it was closed.

  2. Barbara says:

    I have been here several times en route to the beach. Very convenient to get gas ice up and order sandwiches for the cooler and not have to go to Wawa. Food has been good, but sorry to report the service was not. Once I called at 1030 am to order 2 breakfast sandwiches and was told no, it had to be lunch. when I drove by it was empty. Another time I called in an order and 45 minutes later my order was not ready and I was told they were very busy on a catering job. Last time I was there I ordered 2 cold subs at the counter, gassed the car, iced the cooler and walked my dog. When I came back in 15 minutes the clerk looked at me, and then handed the order slip to the cook! So that took a half an hour.

    Food good, but I come to joints like this for convenience, and on that end I have found it not to be convenient at all. Considered this one Sunday enroute to Cape Henlopen, but it was closed. On Sunday. In Summer.

    I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on this place making it.

  3. Donna L. West says:

    WE went based on your review, Foodie and WE LOVED IT! The BBQ sandwiches are fantabulous! We took one to My Mother and she went Wild as she LOVES BBQ. Don’t be fooled by the outside, yummy delights abound inside and you don’t have to drive to NC>

    DLW *8-)

  4. Beach Eater says:

    It’s a gas station, but when I went the place was CLEAN. Cleaner and neater than a lot of restaurants. I will definitely go back. Best chicken since Holiday Chicken, which like the Foodie, I miss. The rolls are ho-hum at best; toast them if you bring them home. Ask if they’ll give you the biscuits with the chicken instead. Somehow, I ended up with biscuits when I got the chicken the first time.

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