My wife’s family is from Savannah. This invariably elicits a stream of oohs and aahs for the town’s 22 lush town squares. Stunning wrought iron and antebellum homes. Savannah also boasts plenty of innovative dining spots.
But 18 miles over the marshes from town, you’ll find quirky Tybee Island. On the tiny island (three miles long, one mile across) flip-flops are standard fashion at weddings and Sunday mass. Meeting times are problematic. At the Beach Bum Parade, held each spring, islanders take up arms – wielding water hoses, super-soakers and even pressure washers -- soaking anyone who dares to stroll down Butler Avenue, the main drag. The event is billed as the world's biggest water fight.
The town is well-stocked with colorful characters. Attorney Frank “Sonny” Seiler defended Jim Williams, a wealthy Savannah antiques dealer charged with the murder of a young hustler. The ten-year epic drama played out in John Berendt’s bestselling book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Still, Sonny is best known as the caretaker of the University of Georgia’s wrinkly, pure white bulldog mascot, Uga, now numbering VII. Back in the day, Sonny was a Tybee lifeguard.
Jodee Sadowsky is another. He is the proprietor of the Breakfast Club, a morning restaurant jewel. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Sadowsky gave up a prime spot as head chef at a “foodie” restaurant in Phoenix to return to Tybee three decades ago to help his mother Helen when her arthritis kicked into overdrive.
The family hails originally from Chicago. Check out the Cubs and Blackhawks photos and memorabilia adorning the walls. Brother Nick is the majordomo. A quintessential beach town diner, it’s the morning hub of Tybee life, where locals come to jaw and joke.
The Breakfast Club has appeared on the PBS program “Breakfast Special” and Sadowsky was named one of North America’s 101 best cooks in the book, “Cooking Across America.” Back in 1996 he assisted in catering John F. Kennedy Jr.’s wedding at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, roughly 100 miles to the south.
Here’s a tip: if you want to get a table at the Breakfast Club without waiting in line, get up a little early. Shortly after 7 a. m. lines stretching down the block to the dunes are a summer weekend norm.
Scanning the menu, it’s tough to choose. Great dishes, even better names. There is the Helen Solidarity, aka the Grill Cleaner’s Special, a steaming plate of diced potatoes, Polish sausage, green peppers and onions, scrambled with two eggs, topped with melted Monterey Jack and American cheeses.
Then again, I may be even more partial to the Smackwater Jack omelette where homemade sausage adds a bit of heat. It is stuffed with tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, served alongside rye toast and buttered grits. It’s pronounced "greeyits" here. I thought about slicing the omelette in half so our friends could actually see the mouthwatering ingredients, but I couldn’t wait that long.
The house special is Egg Florentine: one poached egg in a nest of spinach topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions. A mound of melted ‘Lappi’ Swiss cheese finishes it off. Served on whole wheat toast points and a choice of grits or sliced tomatoes. If they are in season, the dish is topped with succulent U-10 scallops with homemade hollandaise. Yum!
Another hearty favorite is the Blackhawk Breakfast Burrito. Homemade chorizo sausage seared and tossed with onions and jalapenos, scrambled with two eggs and rolled into a chipotle tortilla laced with cheddar and black beans, shredded lettuce, house salsa, sour cream and more black beans.
The daily specials are where locally sourced ingredients and flavors shine. So does the made in-house policy that Sadowsky has always insisted on. Cooks make their own breads, sausages, sauces, and prep a vast variety of veggies by hand. Catch the trout. No pancakes though, they gobble up too much space on the modest eight-foot long grill. There is rarely a misfire.
The pace of the place increases as the morning stretches on. The three cooks (Phil, Leonard, and Franklin) are dressed in black BC T-shirts, floral chef pants, sporting bandanas and ball caps. They could be the three hardest working men in the food business. It is full contact cooking, scraping, slicing and dicing, and dueling spatulas on the griddle. They’re fixing eggs, making waffles, rolling omelets, cooking pork and tilapia. There is plenty of elbow grease in turning out zesty home fries.
The crave-worthy slices of French toast are created with heavenly challah bread. Order the wildly popular pecan waffles. On a recent visit our pal Jeff got the what-for from Sadowsky’s son Ryan when he ordered. “No pe-CONS around here, but plenty of PE-can waffles.” Wham!
Sadowsky stands at the front of the line, staging orders, assembling the basics, manning the toasters, bellowing orders. If you sit at the counter or snag a booth you get a front row seat to the cooks’ non-stop banter and every now and then one will honk a bike shop horn or whack a cowbell with a spatula to liven up the morning. It’s a well-run machine, and especially great theater.
A “Beer Money” tip jar sits on the counter for the cooks. If you donate, a cook rings you a big thank you on a triangle above the toasters.
There is a side room (where you can’t see the cooks) with more tables. Back in the day it used to be Helen’s living quarters. Though the staff is worked to the bone, the service is quick and done with a smile. Hope you get Caroline.
My wife Jane and I stopped by shortly after noon for lunch and a chat with Jodee and his son Ryan. It marked thirty years to the day Sadowsky started at the Breakfast Club. To celebrate I order their famed hamburger. It would make Wimpy weep. Built from six ounces of lean ground beef with all the toppings you desire. Juice rolls down your arm. It’s served on brother Nick’s just-baked bun.
The Breakfast Club stays open till 1 p.m. or so. It is closing time when Sadowsky yells to his servers, “Any menus still out?” As the final orders are being prepared he shouts, “Flip ‘em!” That translates to a pair of signs being flipped from OPEN to CLOSED. On a busy weekend Ryan strolls out to the last person in line and bribes them with a free meal if they will hold up a sign telling anybody else who walks up that the joint is closed.
Among a cavalcade of celebrities who have grabbed a table here are Robert Downey, Jr., Ned Beatty, Greg Kinnear, Christina Applegate, singers Billy Currington and Otis Redding, even the Dalai Lama.
“When they were filming that movie with Miley Cyrus, she and her mom tried coming in after closing,” recalls Jodee with chuckle. “Anyway, it was one of those ‘do you know who I am’ deals. Then Billy Ray comes walking up front and says to the wife, ‘woman, when the man says he’s closed, he’s closed. Let’s go.’”
Want some numbers? They’ve gone through 90 dozen eggs (three cases) in one day. Eight years ago Sadowsky figured he had served 10 million eggs. He hasn’t had the inclination to update it. On our lunch visit egg cartons are stacked nearly to the ceiling behind a booth. The record serving tally: an astonishing 800 people were served over seven hours on July 4, 2012.
So is there a slogan for this wondrous Breakfast Club?
Sadowsky says something about a legendary way to start your day. Ryan, 26, counters: “Yeah, hurry and up and eat!”