If you are looking for a genuine Old South meal, go to The Olde Pink House in Savannah on Reynolds Square. (First, make a reservation!) It's the real thing.
Located on one of Savannah's picturesque squares, it is an 18th-century Georgian mansion with a front porch suitable for rocking and dining rooms decorated with stern Colonial portraits. It really is pink - Caribbean pink with a look of slightly faded seacoast nobility about it. Table settings are gracious, service is polite, and the food is a rare taste of Georgia's culinary tradition.The veterans in the kitchen prepare perfectly delicious modern American cuisine; but the reason we recommend this place is their way with low-country classics that have nearly disappeared from most cooks' repertoires. Here is where you can savor such regional specialties as black turtle bean soup and peppery deviled crabs, luxuriant riverfront gumbo, and - for dessert - Pink House trifle, a Colonial-era cake-and-custard spectacle sopped with sherry.
This kitchen likes to have fun, which we discovered when we brought home The Olde Pink House cookbook and tried its recipe for Chicken Shortcake. It is an exercise in culinary tomfoolery in which chicken stew is served like shortcake, stacked up high atop cornbread instead of biscuits! An inspired idea, because the crumbly cornbread makes a wonderful sop for all the good gravy in the recipe. It takes some effort to prepare Chicken Shortcake, but it is truly delectable and makes a fine company dinner - grand but not too fancy.
The Olde Pink House, 23 Abercorn St. (Reynolds Square), Savannah, GA (912) 232-4286. (Reservations are advised, especially for dinner.)
Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of this newspaper, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, MO 64141.
To make cornbread "shortcake":
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg, beaten
Melt 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings in a 9-inch-square baking pan. Place in oven at 425 degrees.
Mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, mix milk with melted butter and 2 tablespoons melted bacon drippings. Let cool to tepid and beat in egg.
Add milk-egg mixture to dry ingredients. Stir only until blended.
Working quickly, pour batter into hot pan in the oven. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cut into 8 pieces. When ready to use, cut each slice in half horizontally, as for shortcake.
To make chicken:\
1 3-pound chicken
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 medium onion, peeled
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chopped pimientos
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine or white grape juice\ 1/2 cup cooked baby lima beans chopped
hard-boiled egg as garnish
watercress as garnish
Cover chicken with water in heavy pot. Add salt, pepper and onion. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until chicken is tender.
Cool chicken in stock. Remove meat from pot. Reserve 3 cups stock. Pull meat from bones and cut into bite-size pieces.
In a heavy saucepan, saute mushrooms and scallions in 1 tablespoon butter for 3 minutes. Sprinkle in flour. Stir 5 minutes. Stir in reserved stock. Continue stirring over medium heat until gravy-thick. Add pimientos and scallions. Stir in wine or juice. Simmer over low heat 5 minutes. Add lima beans and cook only long enough to heat them through. Return chicken meat to mixture.
Place one-half piece of sliced cornbread on a dinner plate. Top with chicken mixture, a slice of cornbread, more chicken, and finally a third slice of cornbread. Sprinkle top of stack with hard-boiled egg and garnish with watercress.
Serves 4 to 6.