Savannah natives and food-loving-Savannah-visitors stand in a slow-moving line that stretches down Jones Street. At first glance the line clearly represents people from many different cultures and homelands with one thing in common: patience. We pass the front door. It's crowded by veteran-line-standers whose postures wear the effects of the dues they've paid. The jealousy and annoyance that would typically well up in your soul on the way to the back of the line is not present. Just respect. This is not your usual busy restaurant scene. No hostess with a pad asking your party's name and size. No comfy benches for the sojourners. No blinking red buzzer devices to make you aware of your arrival at the top of the list.
Just a line. A long, long line. We made our way to the back of it where we remained for the next seven minutes. We took turns nervously looking behind us to see if anyone had relieved us of our embarrassing position as the caboose. Finally - it happened. Then we took to our regular time-passing vices. A little "would you rather," followed by a mean round of trivia. Thirty minutes passed. There was still a sea of hungry people in front of us. That's when it happened. The lady from the couple standing behind us began reading the menu from her cell phone. Dangerous. I tried to block it out but as she went down the list…"macaroni and cheese, collard greens, fresh biscuits"…I was entranced. I waited for her to finish her beautiful monologue, then I wiped the drool from my face, and then the four of us began talking about the massive amounts of food that awaited our arrival. And the arrival of the 70 people in front of us.
An hour and a half later we reached the front door. The Wilke's House was inscribed on the glass window in a sunny color of chipping yellow paint. We got our first glimpse of the inside of the restaurant through a finger-printed pane of glass. We waited for someone to come bursting out the door and initiate us into the tasty secret society. Before we knew it we were being ushered through the restaurant towards one of six large tables, each with ten chairs arranged around it. We were following a group of six strangers and we were being followed by our two new friends who were strangers just an hour before that, but that didn't matter now. We all approached the same table and scrambled to grab a chair. My eyes were scanning the table frantically. Sensory overload was setting in. I could smell the fried chicken but my eyes couldn't find it at first glance amongst the many colorful plates…cabbage, snap beans, black eyed peas, sausage, fried chicken, red rice, candied yams, butter beans, mashed potatoes, beef stew, cole slaw, carrot raisin salad, squash, mac and cheese, okra and tomatoes, baked beans, noodles and peas...
A waitress mentioned something about sweet tea but I was awash in the array of home cooked loveliness that covered the table and the realization that I did not have to read a menu and make a painstaking decision to eliminate certain dishes. They were all right there, staring me in the eye and they would all eventually make it into my mouth. Everyone grabbed the bowl closest to them and began scooping piping hot goodness onto their plates and passing to the right. It was like we had done this with each other a thousand times…a well-oiled machine.
The rest is sweet and savory history. No pictures to prove it. My camera sat on top of my feet under the table, begging to come out, but time was of the essence. The threat of one of those bowls passing me by was too much pressure. I just ate and ate and ate…until my spoon scraped up the last bite of banana pudding.
Our new friends began to throw their napkins in their plates and a waitress came over and directed us towards the kitchen with our dirty plates. The way it's supposed to be.
The Wilke's House is a nice slice of the simple life. If you ever end up in Savannah, Georgia...just embrace the two hour line.