Imagine you get hired for a job. You move across the country, you get settled in, you are excited to hire some staff to support your new venture — and then someone slams on the brakes.
You sit. You wait. You are given random tasks to deal with before you actually start your job. And that goes on for days. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. It might drive you a little crazy, wouldn’t it?
Well, that’s what it has been like for Drue Longo the last three or four months.
“I’ve had a lot of time,” she tells me. “I’ve been tweaking the menu a little. Working on garnishes and sides.”
There is, however, only so much you can do when the menu you are tinkering with isn’t your own.
Drue is executive chef at 39 Rue de Jean, a French bistro set to open later this summer inside the Embassy Suites Hotel on the western end of downtown. Chances are you may have seen it already, directly across the street from the Greyhound bus terminal on Oglethorpe Street.
It is the second 39 Rue de Jean to open. The first is a landmark spot in Charleston. I say landmark because they’ve been doing their thing for close to 15 years there and are, without question, one of the more popular spots in town. In Charleston, that is saying something.
Meanwhile, back here in Savannah? To say this effort has been a work in progress would be like saying Jacksonville is much too far away to walk to.
The hotel opened last year. The restaurant was supposed to be ready last summer. There were some delays getting going, then they got caught up in a mess with a local contractor. The problems with JT Turner Construction caused some significant issues all over town. Not only was work not getting done, but the other contractors in town were racing to fill the void. All of that meant the big picture slowed to a crawl. 39 Rue de Jean certainly wasn’t the only project affected. A handful of restaurant space projects ground to a halt because of the issue, costing a lot of people some money and forcing many others to get pretty good at playing the waiting game.
Well, that wait appears to be nearing an end.
“I’m just excited to cook,” Drue tells me. I can only imagine.
Her resume seems like it was destined for this gig. She learned the ropes at Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta.
“French cuisine is my background,” she says. “I worked under two French chefs with Hilton for a while.”
That gives her all the reason in the world to be excited about what she will be doing at Rue de Jean.
“It’s a little bit of everything. Heavy braising, butters, pastas, seafood,” she says through a laugh. “Everything I love.”
Rue is known for quite a few things in Charleston. Not the least of which are the mussels, their braised dishes like rabbit or coq au vin and the burger. I’ve actually mentioned it in this space before, but the burger is excellent and I predict could immediately be in this city’s top three or four on day one. That’s a tall order and a lot of pressure, but the attention to detail is there with a lot of what they do at Rue.
“We will have the rabbit here,” she says. “But I’m thinking about maybe a polenta cake and some greens to give it a little more of a Savannah feel.”
Drue was a banquet chef at The Landings Club for a year and a half not too long ago, so she has a pretty good idea of what this city likes and dislikes. She moved on to San Francisco, but family brought her back.
“My brother had a baby. It was kind of a big deal. First grandbaby. I get to be an aunt,” she says. That, and the opportunity to be an executive chef in a proven restaurant at the age of 29 has a way causing you to see things in a different light.
Drue is quick to admit the scene at this 39 Rue de Jean could be a little different than the one in Charleston. That space is loud, busy and clangy (if that isn’t a word, it is now). I’ve been told one of their biggest complaints is the noise level, but they embrace it. Personally, I love it. But it might be a little dialed down here in Savannah.
“We are going to have a dining area in the back which will be a little more quiet,” she says with the qualifier: “I think our menu design, grab a burger, some mussels. Dishes are gonna look sexy.”
The statement supports the fact that this spot will undoubtedly attract a younger crowd as well.
Booths and benches are beginning to be set in place. The bar and the sushi station in the back are also coming along nicely. This will be a great addition to Savannah’s food scene. There was a time, not too long ago, when this corner of Savannah didn’t have much of anything going on. The Grey is the star on MLK, but a new pub a few doors down and now a classic French bistro one block from that?
Yeah, this city is filling in very nicely. Even if it is has taken a little while.