Diversity, order and chaos. Each has a place in this world. Out of all of the elements of expression, out of all of the senses we possess, and out of all of the feelings we experience our souls are grounded by our perception at that time and the place we are in. Alligator Soul is a restaurant that is an experience for you. Life itself is chaotic is what Hilary Craig believed. He took that and bent the rules in defiance to what someone who may have culinary training may have done. Hilary then applied and nurtured the art of the food he prepared creating an experience that feeds you in more ways than one.
The quintessential woman behind the man, Maureen Craig, grew up in New York. She was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and while living on City Island in the Bronx she took a leap of faith that would define her life. She moved to the pacific northwest.
Hilary, grew up in the south where he learned Creole and Cajun cooking. While living in Everett, Washington, 25 miles north of Seattle and a short distance from Vancouver, BC. he and his wife, Maureen, went into the restaurant business. It was Maureen who gave him the nudge to do so. “He was cooking for friends so much at home they were about to eat us out of house and home so I finally said let’s open a restaurant”. So Hilary, called “Hilbo” by his friends, did just that. First a place in Everett and later a more upscale establishment in Seattle. Both became very successful.
Over time they became ready to move and considered moving to Key West. Something about this couple, pushing to the boundaries of the country as if to symbolically push the envelope to see what happens next. Then their friend, Danny who was a musician playing for a group fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson called Heart, told them about Savannah where Heart had recently performed. They decided to move here in 2000.
Between 2000 and 2003 they maintained one restaurant in the pacific northwest while searching for the right place in Savannah. This location needed to be NOT on the beaten path or “restaurant row”. Hilary wanted to create a destination that was different because he had confidence that if he cooked it-they would come. The Barnard Street location was one of the choices. At the time it was only a basement with nice brick walls and exposed beams but what remained in this basement was in need of complete renovation. One serious drawback was no outside entrance to the space. Even with “if you cook it they will come” they do have to have a way to actually get in. So after the owners built an exterior stairwell there is now order to the chaos, a diverse location off the beaten path and the birth of Alligator Soul in 2003.
This restaurant expanded the menu from Cajun and Creole to include more choices as a more eclectic reflection of the word today. Especially in the city of Savannah this would be appropriate. Soon new dishes began to become favorites on a menu that is frequently re-tailored . Some favorites remain such as the Banana Beignet and the ribeye steak named for Hilary called the “Lil Hilbo”. The items offered on the menu may include game such as deer, ostrich and kangaroo. This was the foundation the late Hilary Craig laid for Alligator Soul that is ever present today.
Maureen is sitting in a bar stool facing the doorway as I interview her. It is several hours before opening for the night. People are moving about preparing for the open with careful attention to detail. Maureen says that is what sets them apart is the integrity and honor each person working there reflects. We listen and know if the person who walks in the door has a special occasion or a food allergy or wants to sit at a certain place. Maureen graciously responds about her employees “they put themselves and their personalities into the restaurant”.
The surroundings are comfortable with low ceilings reminiscent of a “speak-easy”. A sitting area adjacent to the bar is well apportioned with a fire place and antique furniture which gives us a warm feeling. The atmosphere indicates great upscale dining with a uniqueness that is all Alligator Soul. When I asked her who her customer is she responded that this is an evolution of people. Initially it was older upscale patrons who are still here along with younger people who have discovered Alligator Soul.
Maureen paused for a moment. She said many people come in because they remember my husband. As the tears form in her eyes she says she wants to thank all of the people who come in and remember her husband by mentioning him. This is what she is doing today as a continuation of the legacy of a man who took and made order from chaos in a culinary way by creating a place where a diverse group of people can find solace and respite through dining. In a world where business is competitive and in a city with problems of its own maybe this place can set an example for people to realize that out of the chaotic world we live in all of us can work together to make life much like a great meal in and of itself.
This is the Alligator Soul